Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Surprisingly more interesting than it seemed...

My first thought of finding out my work experience was at Marshall Library made me think I was going to have a boring two weeks. Working from 9am to 5pm in a library sounded like a dull option but it was surprisingly more interesting than it seemed.

On my first day I met the library staff. They were welcoming about my arrival and the work atmosphere seemed relaxed and friendly. I was taught how they organised books and learnt to issue and return items to students. While I worked part-time doing a newspaper round, this was a new experience for me as I had never acquired the experience of doing a full-time job, nor have I worked in such an environment comparable to a library. The library system was efficient and coordinated; everything was precisely laid out making collecting books simple and easy. Since I am studying economics in school, I decided to take advantage of the resources around me; reading up on certain subjects and looking at the weekly The Economist news. During my stay here, I gained a good understanding of how a standardized library works, learning about the catalogue system and finding out about the extensive collection of dated books hidden away in the basement.

Going to work was quick and easy since I lived in Cambridge.  Travelling by bike, I could avoid most of the morning traffic, allowing me to get to work in roughly 20 minutes. I took a lunch break from 1pm-2pm, often going to meet up with my friends to have lunch on Parker's Piece.

During the week, Sue kindly organised for me to visit the Geography Library, and the Maps Department at the University Library. Andrew from the UL showed me one of the oldest atlases, and I saw the Map's basement, where I saw old maps of Cambridge. Geography is one of my GCSE subjects making it a good opportunity to understand what higher level geography is like. I was given a quick tour of the Geography Library and was shown example pieces of university dissertations.

It was interesting learning the catalogue system and how useful it is to the library. With a few words from the title of the book, we could find out the exact location of the book, alongside a description and publishing date etc. Before going to the University Library with Sue, we searched for a book in the catalogue  before finding its  physical location on the library shelf. It was impressive seeing how large the library was while still being able to home in on specific books easily.

Display case on Brazil: Poverty and Income Inequality

While most new experiences were fun, there was still a bit of repetitive data entry work to be completed, however I soon got used to the routine and became more efficient at it. That's what work is all about. Overall, I learnt a lot from my time at Marshall Library. It was a great experience which has benefited my understanding of work life. Not only have I gained an understanding of how a library works, it also increased my self-confidence and my appreciation of the work environment.

Garrett (work experience 15 to 26 June 2015)

Monday, 22 June 2015

Austin Robinson – World War One aviator - Part 1

Most people are probably unaware that Sir Austin Robinson, famous Cambridge economist, was an aviator with the Royal Naval Air Service during World War One. As we are now in the midst of the 100th anniversary commemorations relating to this conflict I thought it might be interesting to draw upon some of the documents and unique unpublished photographs held in the Marshall Library archives to illustrate the flying career of this prominent Cambridge economist. In this and subsequent posts I'll describe his entry into military aviation, his training and experiences of combat and, finally, his time as a RNAS test pilot.

Austin had just entered the Upper Sixth at Marlborough College when war broke out in 1914. He remained there for a further two years before applying to the RNAS - a decision prompted, no doubt, by his fascination with all things mechanical - he had dismantled and rebuilt an old Humber motorcycle at school - and a desire for speed.

Late in 1916 he was accepted for pilot training but was allowed to defer joining up until after sitting the scholarship examination at Cambridge in which he won a scholarship in classics to Christ's. In February 1917 he was appointed Probationary Flight Officer and ordered to report to HMS President - the RNAS establishment at Chrystal Palace - for basic training.

Austin's letter of appointment as Probationary Flight Officer with the RNAS (Austin Robinson Papers 1/2/1)

Austin’s training lasted for three weeks and consisted of parade ground drill interspersed with instruction in the theory of flight. The latter was performed by instructors with white beards who "... were much too old to have flown, and what they taught us was very little".  However doubtful he may have been about the value of the training he received at Crystal Palace, Austin does not seem to have let it dent his enthusiasm and his conduct there was described as being "very satisfactory”.
Austin's certificate of conduct from Crystal Palace (Austin Robinson Papers 1/2/2)

In March 1917 Austin was posted to the main flying training station for RNAS pilots at Chingford aerodrome. During its operational career it helped to train over 1,000 naval pilots. Opened in May 1915 Chingford aerodrome was described as 'a strip of fogbound and soggy meadowland ... between a reservoir and a sewage farm'. It was not an auspicious location for a station whose primary purpose was the initial training of neophyte aviators. The geographical constraints of the site made landings particularly difficult and a small boat was permanently moored on the nearby King George V Reservoir for the rescue of pilots who routinely crashed into its waters. Nearby Epping Forest provided another natural hazard for unwary pilots.

Austin's flying training was typical of that offered to may other RNAS trainees at Chingford. He took to the air for the first time as a passenger in a Graham White 'Boxkite' on the 31st March 1917. There followed about two months of dual instruction which culminated in Austin being allowed to taxi the aircraft alone and to make a few short 'hops'. The latter involved removing a few spark plugs from the aircraft's engine to reduce its power so that pilots could open the throttle and lift themselves, briefly, into the war within a single length of the aerodrome. On May 30th Austin made his first solo flight, although the exact duration is not known.

Rare photograph of a Maurice Farman Longhorn taken by Austin at Chingford in 1917 (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/4)

A Henri Farman biplane flown by Austin (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/4)

In June Austin moved onto flying the Maurice Farman 'Longhorn' and then the much more capable Avro 504. With a top speed of nearly 100 mph the Avro 504 was Austin's first experience of an aircraft with real power and altitude performance. Although by 1917 Avro 504s were being used primarily as trainers or to equip Home Defence squadrons the RNAS had originally used them in a front line capacity. In November 1914 four 504s had successfully bombed the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen - the first ever bombing raid on Germany. Austin does not appear to have had any problems learning to fly the Avro and he went solo on it within two weeks.

An extremely rare photo of an Avro 504e taken by Austin at Chingford, 1917 (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/4)

A much more common Avro 504k, Chingford, 1917 (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/4)

 That Austin completed his flying training without any apparent mishaps must be regarded as something of an achievement. Although the aircraft being flown at Chingford were very slow by modern standards flight training at this time  was notoriously dangerous, and Austin's sojourn there coincided with a period dubbed 'bloody April' when an above average number of fatalities occurred. In fact, seven trainee pilots lost their lives between April and September 1917.

Another of Austin's photos, this time illustrating one of the many accidents that occurred while he was at Chingford (Austin Robinson Papers 12/5/4)

Although there is no detailed record of Austin's performance as an aviator at Chingford, his certificate of conduct for this period indicates that he conducted himself 'satisfactorily'. This was sufficient to ensure his posting, in June 1917, to RNAS Cranwell for advanced pilot training.

Austin's certificate of conduct from 'H.M.S. President II' which was the RNAS name for Chingford at this time (Austin Robinson Papers 1/2/2)


Monday, 15 June 2015

An insight into library working life

Despite not being granted any of my initial work experience choices, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed working at the Marshall Library of Economics.

Admittedly I was a little nervous for my first day of work. On my induction I met Sue and was introduced to a couple of the members of staff. Everyone seemed pleasant, but nonetheless I feared that people would be unaccommodating; after having heard work experience ‘horror-stories’ from older students. Fortunately my fears were needless – all faculty members were polite and accepting of me and any mistakes I made. By the end of the day I’d learnt how to catalogue, figured out how to issue and discharge books, had been given a tour of the basement and had organised out-dated registration forms.

Conveniently my parents work in Cambridge, and were able to pick me up and drop off at their work on Hills Road, and from there it’s a 15 – 20 minute walk to the Marshall Library. My break and lunch hours were flexible - typically I took a half an hour break at 11:00, and an hour lunch break from 1:00 – 2:00. For lunch I either walked into the city centre to meet friends, or grabbed lunch at one of the restaurants along the river with my parents.

I particularly enjoyed myself on Friday of the first week. In the morning I worked with Sue on end of week banking procedures, was shown the university bank, and was given a tour of the University Library. During the induction I expressed an interest in English, so Sue kindly arranged a visit to the English Faculty Library for me in the afternoon; where I was given a tour of the library by a school classmate. Everyone was again very welcoming in the English Faculty, and I was given the opportunity to ask questions about the undergraduate English course.

During my time at the library I was made aware of the library’s presence on social media, and the importance of maintaining a creative and contemporary business via advertising their services. Although the library has a smaller building and less storage space than those of other departments, the Marshall Library is an essential faculty for the economics students to have as a primary working space and resource.

I’ve never had a ‘proper’ job before aside from babysitting, which evidently is nothing at all like working in a university library for ten days. There were a few very quiet times during the two weeks, but ultimately I grew to understand the challenges and advantages of working in a library. I am now encouraged to persevere with my own academic aspirations for the future.

I have undoubtedly learnt a lot during my placement at the Marshall Library. I feel as if I’ve gained a lot more independence, confidence and developed an understanding of university life. I now have a further appreciation for libraries – particularly Marshall Library – as I now know first-hand how much work and dedication it takes to sustain a library that is, perhaps, a little overlooked.

Selin (work experience 1 to 12 June 2015)