Category Archives: Library events

History Day

Join us and a host of other libraries, archives and research organisations for History Day 2019 at Senate House Library in London on Tuesday 19 November 2019. Admission is free, but you will need to register on their website to attend.

The Brunel Special Collection’s stand at History Day 2018

History Day is a great opportunity to:

  • Plan your next research project
  • Meet specialist librarians & archivists
  • Hear from historical organisations
  • Talk to publishers
  • Build your network

The day includes a history fair showcasing over 50 libraries, archives and other historical organisations, offering one on-one advice on your research.

Visit our stall to find out about how our collections can help with your research and to play with our train set!

Student volunteering opportunities 2019-20

Special Collections is offering the opportunity during the academic year 2019-20 for up to three Brunel student volunteers to gain experience of working with archives and special collections material.

Student volunteer working on a project to digitise our railway posters collection

The Special Collections department within Brunel University Library is responsible for collecting, caring for, and providing access to, the university’s unique and distinctive special collections of archival, ephemeral and printed material. Special Collections aims to support the university’s research and teaching by opening up our unique resources to enrich study and inspire exploration and discovery. It raises the profile of Brunel by actively encouraging use from outside the university. We aim to develop, care for, and provide access to our collections in line with professional standards and to ensure that our collections will survive for use by the students and researchers of the future.

Our collections are available to anyone to use. They cover a wide range of subject areas, including working class autobiographies, the Channel Tunnel, transport history, poetry and equality and advocacy issues. The earliest items in our collection include books from the seventeenth century.

These exciting volunteer roles based within Special Collections provide a great opportunity to experience a range of work typically encountered in the heritage sector. You will receive training in handling objects, books and archival material. Tasks are likely to include:

  • Listing, sorting and organising printed and archival material
  • Promotion and outreach using social media
  • Preservation activity, such as repackaging archival items
  • Preparing displays

Your volunteering will count towards the Brunel Volunteer Awards, and, if you are an undergraduate, your volunteering will form part of your HEAR (Higher Education Archivement Record). Our volunteers have gone on to successful careers in the heritage industry, including libraries, archives and museums.

We are looking for volunteers who can commit to one morning or afternoon (3 hours) per week for at least a term. This must be on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

If you have any questions you can find out more by dropping into our volunteering showcase event on 16 October, which is open between 2 and 5pm. Or by emailing us on

Applications must be made via Brunel Volunteers. The closing date is Friday 18 October 2019.

You can read blog posts written by some of our former volunteers:

Poetry and education

Disability: a taboo area of Britain’s past

Up and down lines: a Railway Mission pastoral poster

Student volunteer working on a railway pamphlet repackaging project

Hillingdon Literary Festival 2019 workshop

Hillingdon Literary Festival takes place on Friday 4 – Sunday 6 October 2019. Now in its fifth year, this free weekend of literary festivities hosted by Brunel University London, offers a plethora of literary events from internationally renowned authors, creative writing workshops, lively debates, industry masterclasses, arts performances, a local creative writing anthology and so much more!

Special Collections will be playing a part on Saturday 6 October at 2pm with a workshop on transcription poetry.

We’ll be exploring transcription poetry using our Neglected Voices collection of poems inspired by the accounts of disabled people, They were composed by Allan Sutherland whilst he was poet-in-residence at the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University.

Allan Sutherland:

‘Neglected Voices’ is a work about disabled people’s experience, consisting of four cycles of transcription poems. 

We get looked at a lot, and talked about a great deal, but we don’t get listened to very much.  This does not mean that we have nothing to say.  Any number of stories are told about us, as poison dwarves, wicked hunchbacks, pathetic cripples, brave survivors or benefits scroungers.  What the story is depends on who’s doing the telling.  That’s why it matters that the stories about us are so rarely told by us.

‘Neglected Voices’ was created during Sutherland’s year-long residency at the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University, a centre which had ‘a particular commitment to user-led and emancipatory approaches to research and to the involvement of service users and the subjects of social and public policy in research and policy development’ . 

The project uses the same transcription poetry technique as in his work with Paddy Masefield and Nancy Willis. (More information about this technique is in Sutherland’s paper [opens as Word document] presented at the 2010 Disability Studies Conference at Lancaster University.)

That previous work was about important figures in the Disability Arts world.  These cycles of poems tell the life stories of a wider group of disabled people, drawn from the range of people involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in the Centre for Citizen Participation. 

You can book your place here on any of the weekend’s workshops and read other blog posts about the Neglected Voices collection.

Autumn 2019 newsletter

Our Autumn 2019 newsletter has just been published. In it you will find information about events happening this term and our summer projects, including the cataloguing of a new collection, improvements to our reading room, volunteer projects and the launch of a new display about the Burnett Archive.

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Heritage Open Days 2019

As part of Heritage Open Days 2019 Brunel University Library is holding 3 open days. All are invited to visit Special Collections (library level 3, within the Bannerman Centre at the centre of the campus) to discover our collections of unique and distinctive rare books and archives.

The Collections cover a range of subject areas, particularly working class autobiographies and transport (especially railway) history, the Channel Tunnel and much more.  Come along to meet Katie Flanagan, Special Collections Librarian, and be inspired by our collections.

Entrance to the open days is free of charge and there is no need to book.

The Open Days are taking place at the following times:

  • Mon 16 September 2 – 5 pm
  • Tues 17 September 12 – 2 pm
  • Wed 18 September 12 – 2 pm

Directions for visitors are available on the Brunel University website.

Lunchtime workshop

In April we held a very popular free lunchtime workshop on Preserving your family history where participants were able to explore methods they could use at home to preserve their family history documents and photographs.

Workshop participants learn more about preserving documents from Special Collections Librarian, Katie Flanagan

Due to popular demand, we are running the workshop again on Tuesday 2 July at 13.15pm. The workshop lasts for 45 minutes and is free, but please book a place as space is limited. The event is open to staff, students and visitors to Brunel University.

Please contact us if there are other lunchtime workshop topics you would be interested in.

Preservation Week 2019

A major part of our work in Special Collections is to ensure that our materials will still be available to future generations of scholars and visitors. Many of the objects we hold are made of sturdy stuff, our rare 18th century books will probably outlast us all, but other items such as our photographic collections are more fragile, and even stable materials can become vulnerable over decades. To this end we spend a lot of time making sure materials are stored in optimal conditions to extend their life and usefulness. This week we are participating in the ALA Preservation Week by celebrating all things preservation and giving you an insight into the activities we undertake. On Monday 29 April you can even come along to our free lunchtime workshop to find out more about preserving your own family history (places are free but limited, please book in advance).

Pencil sketches added by a former owner to our copy of The poems of Sir Walter Raleigh (1814). Find out more about this book.

Where and how you store different materials can have a big impact on their lifespan. We try to store collections in a space that has a consistent temperature and humidity all year round. This is because extremes of temperature and the presence of moisture in the air can induce a harmful reaction in different materials. For instance, paper can be vulnerable to mould in hot and wet conditions or older colour photographs can decay in high temperatures.

Special Collections is equipped with snazzy blue blinds to prevent sunlight artificially warming our facility, with the addition of ultraviolet filters to prevent yellowing of paper and fading of inks. We also monitor the temperature and humidity of our collections with some basic digital indicators to give us a warning of problems.

Additionally, we keep our eyes peeled for any pests such as silverfish that might take a fancy to our materials for food or accommodation. We use pest traps to monitor any nuisance visitors, and if we find any try to modify the environment to discourage their visits.

Other environmental factors should also be considered. This might include dust, or pollution if you live in a built up area. One way to mitigate these is to store materials in an enclosure like a box that will prevent light and particles from accessing the item. This is a simple way to preserve heirlooms or keepsakes, although you do have to check on them occasionally to make sure there is nothing happening inside the box itself.

Interestingly, a common way materials become damaged is just through poor handling. To try and minimise handling and stress we use book supports to cradle our printed materials when they are being viewed. We also add a protective layer of Melinex to items like photographs or paper to prevent them from being damaged by constant use. At home, something as simple as washing your hands before handling rare materials can limit environmental pollutants.

With these safeguards in place we hope our collections will be available for years to come.If you would like more information about Preservation week visit the ALA webpages for advice and insights.