Writing Treasures From UCL: An Author’s Perspective

Posted on June 03, 2015 by UCL Press

When I was first commissioned to write the Treasures from UCL book in the summer of 2012, to promote the UCL Special Collections, I was absolutely delighted to take on the job and really excited at the prospect. Not only did it mean a great opportunity to publicise the Library’s wonderful collections, but it also meant I was able to revisit the numerous fabulous treasures that UCL holds, always a joy.

I was going to get to see my favourite items again at close hand! The Persian manuscript, the Beethoven letter, the John Gould books (the list goes on)!  I knew though that it was going to be a long road ahead, and I would need to be quite ruthless in my choice of items. That was the hardest part. Deciding what to leave out was not going to be easy. But I’ve always liked a challenge, so I immediately set to work making a list of those items which should definitely go in. A pattern soon began to emerge and a rough chronological weaving in and out of the wide range of materials at my disposal seemed the best way to go, like embroidery or a jigsaw, it seemed to me.

The next challenge was focussed on getting all the significant detail right in the descriptive text while at the same time bringing out the most interesting angle for each item included. There were times when I thought I’d never get to the end of all 70 items. Alongside this came the job of gathering all the images together to do justice to the illuminations, the bookbindings, and all the fine detail of printed as well as manuscript text, not to mention the exquisite colours and intricacies of the more delicate books. All in all I must have dealt with over 200 images, most of which had to be re-photographed from the originals, since many of the existing images were some years old and just wouldn’t do. For light relief I was also setting aside time to complete the text for the history of the collections which appears at the beginning of the book, and liaising with the brilliant contributing authors.

The process of putting the actual volume together was an enjoyable experience in itself, from sending in the first drafts to checking the index. In between there were many back-and-forths with the UCL Press staff and their appointed editor and designer, checking details, correcting typos, and working with the UCL Press designer to choose the most appropriate design and look for the finished product. I should mention that I wouldn't have been able to achieve half of what I did without the brilliant support of all my colleagues in Library Services, and of course UCL Press. It is wonderful to see the book published as one of the first books for the UCL Press launch, not only in Open Access and print form but also in an enhanced digital version available freely online, where readers can not only enjoy the book but also see videos of academics talking about some of the key items and view the images in all their glory in deep zoom.

Gillian Furlong, Head of Special Collections and Archivist, UCL Library Services

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