Tag Archives: library history

50 Items 26: Library Art Collections

A library performs many functions; it is a place of study, of discussion and debate, of collaboration and conference, or simply a warm respite from the winter winds. However, one role the Brunel Library performs you may not have noted is that it is also a palace of art.


Central concourse, looking east, late afternoon sun by Alan Bennett

The Library walls are ornamented by the Brunel University Collection of Artworks, a 700 item strong assemblage of prints, paintings and sculptures that have been amassed by the university over the course of its history.


Their placement in the Library seems appropriate. Intense work demands occasional distraction and taking a break and refreshing the self through enjoyment of art makes sense. Picasso apparently claimed that “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls” so a five minute break looking at the Olympic Poster collection must at least give our insides a buff. Art also engenders creativity “A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind” (Eugene Ionesco). Allowing the mind to wander could bring new insight and perspectives.

The Library

The Library by Olwen Jones


The University displays its collections in offices, administrative buildings and public spaces across the campus. In the Library you will find several interesting series and types of images. A favourite is the linotype The Library, one of the first things you will encounter upon entering the Library at the Welcome Desk. It is painted by the painter and printmaker Olwen Jones and depicts a cosy room lined with books and featuring an inviting chair. As mentioned, a number of prints belong to the Olympic Poster Collection, which is comprised of framed colour screenprints and lithographs from an international selection of artists. For example, the colourful Olympic Objects by German artist Otmar Alt created for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The poster illustrates a menagerie of abstract animals in primary hues. Certainly looking at these visuals gives new perception into the creativity of the human mind.


Munich Games 1972 Olympics Poster by Otmar Alt

One of the key collections the university holds is by the painter Alan Bennett, who painted several images of the university campus since the seventies to the present day. The Library holds several of these paintings and they evoke a pleasing glimpse into life outside the Bannerman walls. This is hardly scratching the surface of the many painting, prints and designs that can be explored.


Altogether these painting that grace our walls should not be overlooked in the primary pursuit of knowledge, but included as one of the many reasons to visit the Library.


50 objects 25: Library Staff Suggestions Book

A post by Graduate Trainee, Becky Tabrar.

In celebration of Brunel University’s 50th birthday, which is fast approaching on the 6th July, we thought we would share with you another item from the Library History Archive. In 1978, a staff suggestion book was created by the University Librarian Nick Childs, to allow library colleagues to have their say on how services could be improved.


Library Staff Suggestion Book, 1978-1984.


The comments were recorded between 1978 and 1984, and offer a unique insight into the operations of an academic library in this era. Often borrowing books from the Library was a time consuming and arduous process. Before the existence of online record systems, Brunel University Library used an early computer form of automated library system, which read a student’s issue ticket and ticket held within the item they wanted to borrow, and copied them on to a tape which was printed every day for records. One colleague lamented about the complexity of issuing journals under this system, and in particular, was concerned about the difficulty of discharging journal articles if its ticket had fallen out, as was often the case. They suggested that journals should become reference only as a solution, and later on this was indeed the case. As expected, with barcodes now allowing paper journals articles to be easily discharged from our computer system, this is no longer a concern.

Nevertheless, the rise of the computer has not resolved all of the concerns from the 1970s and 80s. In 1978, a staff member refers to the frequency of checked out books being left behind on library desks. This is a common phenomenon even today. Likewise, a comment recorded in 1979 states ‘someone was disco dancing in the reading room at 5pm (till I saw him!)’. One staff member in 1978 had an enthusiastic way of describing the high noise levels in the Library and in verse declared:

‘Once upon a time,

Before the laughter pierced the silence,

And pattering tiny feet,

Thundered round in circles,

…….Library quiet had lingered,

Once upon a time’

Though I can’t say I have ever seen a student ‘disco-dancing’, we still have our fair share of noise complaints!

50 objects 24: Railway Riot

Railway riot : the new indoor & outdoor treasure hunt for all social and festive occasions

Amongst the transport history collections are ephemera such as tickets and posters, but also a game showing how universal railway travel and timetables must have been in everyday life.


“Railway Riot” front cover

“Railway Riot” is a game for up to twelve players, produced by Universal Publications in the mid twentieth century and costing one shilling. It’s a form of treasure hunt based on railway timetables, in which players must fill in a card with a route and times by finding and consulting the correct timetables.

The “directions for play” offer suggestions as to where to hide the cards – if indoors, inside the wardrobe or behind the bath; if outdoors, up a tree, under a car, “or some other similar absurd place”. Conveniently, perhaps to settle arguments, a sheet with correct answers is also given.



“Railway Riot”: part of the game

The set appears never to have been used : it still has two rounds’ worth of cards for twelve players intact and unmarked.

Universal Publications, established in the 1930s, produced a range of party games: you can see some more of them found in an archive collection elsewhere in this blogpost.

For other games based on railways, see the National Railway Museum’s “Using the Railway” section.  If you’re interested in games more generally, you can find many resources via Brunel’s Games Design libguide.

50 objects 23: bookplates

Some of the books in the Library’s collections were owned by other libraries, or by individuals, before they came to us. One way of learning about a book’s history is to identify the former owner’s plate or label, usually glued to the inside front cover or front flyleaf. Here’s a selection of bookplates found at Brunel:

Brunel University Library bookplate

Brunel University Library bookplate

Brunel University Library bookplate. This features the swan image from the old University crest, which represents the University’s location in Uxbridge, and the cogwheel represents technology.


Shoreditch College bookplate

Shoreditch College bookplate

Shoreditch College was founded in 1902 and became a teacher training college specialising in craft, design and technology. In 1980 it merged with Brunel University, and some of the books from its library were transferred to the University Library. For more about Shoreditch College, see the Discovery Trail and the College’s archives held by the University.


Oldham Public Libraries bookplate

Oldham Public Libraries bookplate

Some books belonging to colleges which were merged with the University came from yet another library beforehand. This book’s plate shows it once belonged to Oldham Public Libraries. It came to Brunel University Library via Borough Road college, which was established in Southwark in 1817 but moved to Osterley in 1889, eventually becoming part of the West London Institute and so joining Brunel University in 1997. Another book came from Stoke Newington Public Library.anotherbookplate







DC Watt bookplate

DC Watt bookplate

Donald Cameron Watt in 2008 gave the Library a collection of books to do with intelligence and security studies; for more information see the collection page. His books have this commemorative plate.


Anthony Murray bookplate

Anthony Murray bookplate




Some of the books bequeathed to the Library by  Charles Clinker, and now forming part of the Transport History Collection were previously owned by Anthony Murray, whose bookplate featuring a steam engine is one of our favourites.



50 objects 16: Student newspapers and magazines

A post by Library Assistant (and former Brunel student) Oliver Thompson.

Fascinating snapshots of the history of Brunel over the past thirty odd years from the perspective of students themselves can be found within the pages of Brunel University student newspapers and magazines, which Special Collections hosts an archive of, with the oldest available issues dating back to February 1984.

Frequently candid and uncensored in scope and tone, Le Nurb has provided a platform for students to openly express their points of view on student life and the world at large, and each issue in the collection offers the curious reader glimpses of the student experience of the time, as well as a unique insight into the developing history of Brunel through the years. For Alumni they offer a warm feeling of nostalgia as one may recognise the names and faces contained within.

academyThe articles tell the history of many different aspects of the student experience, and often sought to encourage students to fully engage with the myriad of opportunities available to them during their time at Brunel, including coverage of various groups and societies, student union activities, the radio station, and guides to campus facilities such as the athletics centre and various bars.

The earliest issue in the collection is dated Thursday 2rd February 1984, containing articles on a2 feb 1984 Student Union Presidential candidate being disqualified for overspending on his promotional materials, features on important topics of the day such as animal experimentation and human rights, and reports on sports results from local fixtures (including Brunel beating Old Isleworthians 5 : 0 at hockey and Brunel 1st X1 beating Reading 1st X1 5 : 3 at football).

Some key moments for Brunel covered in later issues of Le Nurb include the one day strike that occurred on 15th January 1986, protesting the Government’s cuts in funding for Higher Education, the theft of £25,000 from the Midland Bank on campus that occurred in March 1986, and a 1988 visit by Labour’s then Education Equality 13th Nov 1986spokesperson Jack Straw, and the opening of the Athletics Centre in 2005. Other content in the magazines includes photo montages of students celebrating nights out at the Academy, lists of degree results for graduating students, reviews of concerts that occurred at Brunel, and letters from students debating topics such as politics, Student Union policies and tuition fees. Adverts for Brunel events evoke a sense of nostalgia, such as the 1984 Christmas Ball boasting music from reggae group Aswad and impressions from Rory Bremner.

Le Nurb was rebranded as Route 66 magazine between 1997 and 2005, and these issues are also in the collection. Since reverting back to the title Le Nurb, in recent years the student newspaper has expanded and established its own website which hosts more recent issues of the printed newspaper, and also maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

50 objects 15: Library Then and Now

Brunel University Library: Through the decades

A post by Graduate Trainee Becky Tabrar.

We’ve had a rummage through our Brunel Library archive and found some intriguing photos of the Library through the decades. We decided to recreate the images in the present day for a side by side comparison, and in doing so, realised how the unique brutalist architecture of the building (a form popular between the 1950s and mid 1970s) has characterised and identified the library through its forty two years of operation. The open dome through the centre of the Library has watched over Brunel undergraduates since the Library’s opening, and likewise, our concrete bench on the second floor has been used as a study space by Brunel students for four decades.

Of course, however, the interior of the library has continuously evolved over the four decades, as is evident in the images. The entrance to the Library is no longer on the first floor, and following suit, the Help Desk has also relocated to the ground floor. Though, the most obvious change is the rise of the computer.

The furnishings and layout may have changed, but over the past four decades, the Library’s ethos, of supporting Brunel students to the best of our means, has remained the same.

We hope you enjoy having a look through the photos.



50 objects 10: A history of Brunel University London’s Library building

A post by the Library’s Graduate Trainee, Becky Tabrar.

Brunel University Library was opened on the 10th December 1973. Until this point, there had been no centralised library on the newly formed Brunel University campus, with resources temporarily held in the engineering and lecture centres. The intake of students vastly outnumbered the library spaces available, and the growing demand on library resources was detailed in an April 1969 Brunel Library Report, which estimated 40,000 books would be borrowed in 1969, compared to the 33,000 borrowed in 1968. By 1971 this number had risen to 75,000, and so the need for a standalone library building was evident.

The building that emerged, and now forms part of the Bannerman Centre, was designed by Richard Sheppard CBE, and his partner John Heywood, who together envisioned a functional building, at the centre of the university, which would complement the brutalist architecture of the Lecture Centre.

The Library after completion

The Library after completion

This vision is still present today, with the Library standing within the heart of the campus, directly opposite the Student Union, and with the older sections of the Bannerman Centre equalling the imposing nature of its brutalist styled neighbour, the Lecture Centre.



Architectural sketches of the planned Library

Architectural sketches of the planned Library


Nick Childs, Brunel’s librarian at the time, consulted with architects to ensure the Library environment would be cheerful, flooded with light and accommodative of every student’s needs; an ethos that the Library maintains today. The initial architectural brief stated that the building should be ‘fully open plan, with no internal walls’, and that study spaces should be arranged to allow the reader ‘a feeling of privacy’, but should avoid the appearance of an examination room. Plans were also made for a sound-proof typing room, a reading area for smokers (quite unimaginable today), and a ground floor area that would remain open, even when the Library was closed; perhaps the beginnings of our 24 hour service of today. The contractors chosen were William Moss, and construction began in April 1971, lasting for two years, at the cost of £532,682.

This image was taken shortly after completion and shows Sheppard and Heywood’s vision of an open plan library.

This image was taken shortly after completion and shows Sheppard and Heywood’s vision of an open plan library.

By 1976, 1,000,000 visitors had passed through the Library’s turnstiles; it had space for 1,200 readers; there were 16 kilometres of shelving; and 140,000 volumes lining these shelves. However, following Brunel University’s merger with the West London Institute of Higher Education in 1996, library provisions on campus were again insufficient for the growing student body. A library extension was designed by Rivington Street Studio, and construction began by Bluestone contractors in June 2003. The Bannerman building, in its current form, was opened by Lord Melvyn Bragg on 24th February 2005.

The 2004 extension of the Library.

The 2004 extension of the Library.

The Library has been a part of Brunel University’s skyline for 42 years, and in that time has served generations of Brunel graduates, and due to it being listed by the local authority for its unique architecture, long may it continue to do so.