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Showing posts from September, 2015

Pembroke in our time

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With this final donation, to bring the total up to 50 books, Stephen Town draws his Night shelf series to a close.

Gilbraith, C., Pembroke in our time, in the University Library at K8.4259 (Quarto)

This final donation comes as new students have arrived in their Colleges here at York. Few Universities now preserve the tradition of a Collegiate system, but York continues to do so, and this model was originally a conscious emulation of the Oxbridge approach within which I studied. This gift is an acknowledgement of the enduring strengths of that system, and a celebration of the accession of a new Master of Pembroke, my near contemporary and friend Chris (Lord) Smith; a most worthy appointee.

It is also, at last, a book in which I get some mention, and leads me to reflect on what success means. I am pleased that another friend and recent Solicitor General, Sir Oliver Heald, recollects that I and my brother had College undergraduate politics ‘well sewn up’; I recall the astonishment of my …

Science; what does it all mean?

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For the penultimate post in his Night shelf series, Stephen Town revisits his undergraduate studies to find out how much has changed.


As the new academic year approaches, for the first time in forty-two years I will not be an active participant as it unfolds. I find myself in this situation increasingly drawn to recollection of my undergraduate experience, not in sentimental recollection, but through a continuing desire to learn and think within an academic community. Perhaps a retirement activity will be further study, and probably no better field to return to than the philosophy of science, having spent much of my professional life at the junction of science and humanities.

Lewens, T., The Meaning of Science, in the University Library at R 1 LEW

Tim Lewens is a professor in my old department of the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, so I was pleased to pick up this book to read on a long flight. This is a broad-ranging and relatively accessible introduction to the philo…

What makes a great University Librarian?

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As his Night shelf series begins to draw to a close, Stephen Town reflects on the teachings of other University Librarians in our collections.

As I prepare to relinquish the Statute-defined role of Librarian of this University, I offer two books relating to others who have held this position in other institutions.

Booth, J.,Philip Larkin:Life, Art and Love, in the University Library at MA 191.9 LAR/B

Philip Larkin may be best known as one of Britain’s greatest modern poets, but he was a professional librarian for the majority of his life, becoming University Librarian at Hull in 1955 at the early age of 32. At that time the Library had a mere 11 staff; by his death in 1985 this had grown to 80, with a new library building and transformed collections and services. Having had similar scale work experiences of growth and transformation, I would suggest that this part of his life deserves more respect than from the reviewer who described his life outside poetry as “dull”.

We hold a compre…

The books behind the successful management of an academic library

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Drawing his Nightshelf series to a close, Stephen Town donates a collection of books on management to the University Library

Probably the best gift I can give to this University on retirement, but maybe the least desired by the recipient, is some wisdom on management. As I work towards completing my PhD by publication submission I am obliged to reflect on over thirty years of personal experience as a departmental head in universities, and to think about the personal influences that have shaped my own leadership and management practice and ideas. This also leads to consideration of what seems missing, not just in this University’s library stock on the subject, but also in the overall management appreciation of the organisation.


Maslow, A., A theory of human motivation

It may be a truism, but if you don’t understand people you cannot manage. Motivation may depend on needs, and Maslow’s idea of a hierarchy of human needs makes him one of the most quoted psychologists of all time. The wel…

Inequality: what can be done?

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In his latest night shelf donation, Stephen Town delves into the world of economics, politics and inequality.

Atkinson, Inequality: what can be done?, in the University Library at G 9.41 ATK

The University of York has a proud record of research into inequality. Professor Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level had a great impact beyond the academic sphere (you can find it in the University Library at DA 2.1 WIL or on Yorsearch). But, despite being quoted by the Prime Minister, the recent election and its aftermath indicate that few lessons have been learnt either by the electorate or by the political classes, and that there is no real plan in the UK for dealing with the problem.

My latest donation, from distinguished economist, Tony Atkinson, does provide such a plan. Atkinson discusses a comprehensive set of fifteen proposals in five areas: technology, employment, social security, capital sharing and taxation. These suggestions are robustly defended against the sceptical and pessimist argume…

The Complete World of The Dead Sea Scrolls

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The latest installment from Stephen Town, this night shelf read is a must for anyone interested in religious studies.

Davies P., Brooke G. and Callaway P., The Complete World of The Dead Sea Scrolls, in the University Library at C 21.4 DAV

The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran in the late 1940s has been described as ‘the greatest manuscript find of all time’. It regrettably also turned into one of the most shameful academic episodes of all time, with controversy, dispute and obstruction leading to almost fifty years of delay in opening up full access to these remarkable survivals.

The finds include over 900 documents of early versions of the Hebrew Bible, other diverse religious works from the Second Jerusalem Temple period not included in the canon, and previously unknown sectarian works possibly arising from a local religious community around the time of Christ.

The Library has a number of works on the texts, which can be found through Yorsearch, but this donation is a well…

History of Ireland in 100 objects

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In this next installment of his Night Shelf blog, Stephen Town takes a look back at how objects can help tell the story of our past.

O'Toole, F., History of Ireland in 100 Objects, in the University Library at Q 41.5 OTO

Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects started as a broadcast and became a very popular book (in the Library at Q09 MACG). It is a true night shelf book, and I have been reading it to my wife in bed for some time now. Unfortunately not even my inventive mimicry of the voices of the experts commenting on the objects can stop her falling asleep after a few sentences, so it has taken several years to get even half way through the chunky tome.

My next donation, however, is a more manageable imitator. The National Museums of Ireland are of a more human scale than the British Museum, and spread their wares across a number of locations across the island. The History of Ireland in 100 Objects does not limit itself to items in the museums either but recognise…

On Immunity: an inoculation

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In the next edition to his Night shelf donations, Stephen Town tackles the issues around immunisation.

Biss, E., On Immunity, in the University Library at Y 6.079 BIS

I bought this book through having an interest in the immune system; having a wife who is deliberately immunosuppressed, following organ transplantation, creates a significant personal dimension to this field of biology.

Eula Biss is however not intent on covering this angle; her personal stake arises from the dilemma of mothers facing the question of childhood vaccination.

This dilemma exists mainly in the minds of middle-class US mothers, and it is largely from that perspective that the book is written. Biss draws on her own new mother paranoia in a frank and honest way, and ranges widely across language, science and society, with such imagination and obsessive research that one is surprised in equal measure to the irritation one feels about those who ignore the scientific evidence and withdraw from vaccination programm…