February 6, 2016, by Kathryn Steenson

Five Minutes With…. Ursula Ackrill

Happy National Libraries Day! To celebrate libraries and librarians, we’re borrowing the ‘Five Minutes With…’ format from the Library Matters blog and talking to our librarian Ursula, who is responsible for the ‘Special Collections’ part of Manuscripts & Special Collections. German speakers may also be familiar with her as the author of Zeiden, im Januar.

What is your name and job title?

My name is Ursula Ackrill and I work as Librarian for Special Collections.

Front cover of the 1925 edition of The Great GatsbyWhat is your job, in a nutshell?

My job is to look after the University’s rare published works. Special Collections has nearly 60,000 books, arranged in 30 collections with different profiles.

It is an important job because it ensures that valuable resources are available in perpetuity: not just materially but also alive to how researchers use resources. A bit like doing the PR for a very venerable and worthy clientele, all of whom live in our rolling stacks. Come to think of it, most Special Collections are named after real people who gave them to us.

What have you been working on recently?

Most recently I have talked to academics in two departments about creating a new collection, assessing at this stage what potential for research it holds for the Departments and how to attract prospective PhD students to it.

What is one thing you wish people understood better about libraries or special collections?

One thing I wish people understood better about libraries and special collections is their catalogues – sounds boring, but if you learn how to use these, everything is at your fingertips.

What made you want to be a librarian?

What made me want to be a librarian? As a librarian you get to sit in the director’s chair, or to borrow from another profession, you get the architect’s view over this mass of content that otherwise could feel overwhelming. I love modern fiction, but I need to know what is meaningful and matters from other perspectives too. It helps me keep an open mind…

Ursula in headwrap and sunglasses in the Namib desert with sand dunes in the background

Ursula in the Namib desert

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved? 

The last book I read and loved is The Great Gatsby. It did not matter that I knew the plot, the value lies in the way it’s told, a very powerful book about self-deceit. Gatsby thinks he is in love with a nice girl. He is a con-artist taken in by one of his own figments.

If you could have super power, what would it be and why?

If I had a superpower I would like to be able to lift the sand away from the world’s deserts and take a walk in the exposed ground zero – I imagine there are lost cities there.

Posted in Guest blogs