The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland - Five years on: a review

Peter Hoare (Nottingham), Ian Willison, CBE and others
11 October 2011

In addition to the paper presented by Peter Hoare, Ian Willison, CBE gives tribute to the late Professor Robin Alston.

Abstract (taken from History SPOT blog)

Peter Hoare was not there at the very beginning but not long after – in fact he became editor very soon after Robin Alston had decided it was worthwhile doing a history of libraries as well as a history of the book.  Alistair Black was then brought in not long after and then the proposals began.  The title changed various times.  In 1994 for example the publication was to be called A History of Libraries in the British Isles.  Ireland was added in to the title not long after as it was an important element of the work.  Eventually Cambridge decided that it should become one of the Cambridge histories and thereafter it became known as the Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland. 

This talk by Peter Hoare himself, looks at the three volumes five years after the final volume was published and gives insights into the creative process, purpose, and also the elements that fell by the way.  For instance, there were various ambitious related activities that never saw the light of day.  At the time ideas were thrown around of joining with the Institute of Historical Research in a similar way to the Victoria County History.  The idea was to produce a continuous series similar to the county histories.  Although that never came to pass the History of Libraries seminar is a partial benefactor of those initial discussions.
There were also long discussions on where divisions between volumes should occur and it was even considered that this should be a 4-5 volume set purely for chronological reasons.  Quite late in the day a 4th volume on statistics and appendices was abandoned. 
Volume 1 was worked upon by an editorial group, volume 2 by Robin alone, and volume 3 brought in Giles Mandelbrote around 1996.  In about 1998 Robin Alston decided he had too many ‘irons in the fire’ and felt that he should drop out.  This meant that Mandelbrote was on his own for a while, until Keith Manley was brought on board as a second editor for volume 2.  Volume 3 was easier being edited by Alistair Black and Peter Hoare. 
The accolade of being accepted as a ‘Cambridge History’ rather than one of their normal publications was a decision that truly showed the importance and high quality of the work.  The second half of the podcast looks into the process of publication, the costs involved and the commercial success of the history.

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