A warm autumn day in Cambridge saw a group of CLIS members and friends gather at the University Library to be warmly greeted by Dr Onesimus Ngunga, Librarian of the Bible Society (BS) Library. Onesimus gave us a brief history of BS: inspired by the story of Mary Jones and her desire to read the bible in her own language, it was founded in 1804 with the dual purpose of translating and distributing scriptures affordably in local languages. The library collection (now over 39,000 vols) was mostly acquired through various donations, and now they receive first editions of all new English Bibles. The collection was moved to Cambridge following BS’s move from London to Swindon.
We were shown round the 2 floors of the library collection: the upper floor with Bibles in the ancient languages, plus Annual Reports of BS, and a beautiful painting of Bede transcribing scriptures by hand; the lower floor with Bibles in English and ca 2000 worldwide languages.
Onesimus had on display for us some rare and precious Bibles:
One of the first printed Gutenberg New Testaments (1516),
Luther’s German NT translation (1522),
Tyndale’s English NT,
a King James Bible (1611),
the first printed Chinese NT (1810),
a Dutch/Malay Bible (1651),
a Madagascar Bible (1835) preserved during persecution by burial wrapped in animal skins – this emphasised what treasured possessions these Bibles were (and still are to the many still suffering persecution) – while we can take them for granted.
We also saw a collection of Scripture portions given to the armed services in various wards [collected by CLIS member Rachel Johnson’s father].
Their largest Bible, an illustrated folio used in telling Bible stories.
A collection of miniature Bibles, some in cases incorporating magnifying glasses!
Other collection highlights
The largest collection of Chinese Bibles in the world
Manuscripts: more than 500 in 184 languages, the oldest is 4c. Coptic.
Thousands of letters from missionaries (such as David Livingstone) recording their translation work.
“Language files” about the work of translation, including the difficulties of finding appropriate words in cultures very different from the 1st century Near East.
The library today
Visiting overseas students are immensely grateful to the pioneer missionaries/translators who went overseas enduring incredibly difficult situations to provide scriptures in local languages. The annual reports are a goldmine for their research, containing details of all the translation work. Several current legal disputes have been resolved through use of the library’s records.
There is currently a scanning project to digitise Chinese Bibles and missionary letters. (See Christian Librarian Spring 2018 for details of this project and how you can help).
90% of the library’s holdings are now catalogued in electronic format.
Preservation work is carried out in conjunction with the conservation department at the University Library.
We are most grateful to Dr Ngunga for showing us the collection and sharing with us his gratitude and enthusiasm for those early pioneers of Bible translation – from Tyndale to the present day. There are still 5,000 languages worldwide with no Bible!
Thanks also to Rachel Johnson for organising this visit.
For further information about the library, see the website http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/departments/bible-societys-library
“DEMOS carried out research over the summer of 2018 to assess the potential impact of reading on several great challenges of our time: loneliness, mental health problems, dementia and social (im)mobility… In a worst case scenario, the social, political and financial pressures of these challenges will pit the young against the old, the privileged against the disadvantaged and the healthy against the ill. This report shows that books can bring us back together in surprising ways. Of course, reading is no panacea. But upon review of the evidence, there is simply no excuse to not take reading seriously as part of the solution.”
“A Society of Readers” DEMOS 2018 Executive Summary
Those of us who have ever been involved with public libraries professionally know the above to be true and libraries offer so much more than books and reading: PC access, assistance with information literacy and online forms, a free and neutral civic space, homework and research help, rhyme time and reading for energetic or shy toddlers, someone to talk to whatever your age or needs. Sadly, the long-term good that public libraries do is having to be weighed by our local authorities against the short-term legal necessity of bringing in a balanced budget while managing the immediate acute social care and child protection needs of their population.
This petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/228742 calls on parliament to be honest about the strain they are putting on local authorities. It calls on the government to invest directly in our public libraries, with additional funding that is ring-fenced. I use the word ‘invest’ deliberately as that is what it is, an investment that in the longer term saves society money as well as improving the health and mental health, academic and employment prospects and pleasure in life of countless citizens.
Lois Cooper writes: Ever since some of my family moved to Oxford area I have wanted to visit “The Kilns”, Home of CS Lewis, where he wrote many of his books. I was very pleased when the “Christians in Library and Information Services” arranged a group visit. It gave me a chance to visit family, and avoid a day trip from the Isle of Wight.
Conveniently there was an exhibition “Tolkien – Maker of Middle Earth” at Weston Library, so went there as well, having to dodge the cameras of tourists around Oxford! A confession here is that even though I read The Hobbit, I started reading “The Lord of the Rings” and felt I had better things to do with my time! I did watch the recent films as they came out in January, and January is a bleak month to celebrate one’s birthday. The exhibition was busy and I did find it interesting.
The following day met up with the Library group at The Kilns. CS Lewis wanted a remote location because of his unusual family relationships. Mrs Moore was the owner of the home, Lewis and Warnie were the tenants. They also had a pessimistic gardener living with them, whom it is said that Lewis modelled Marsh-wiggle after in the Silver Chair, written at The Kilns. It is a quirky 1922 home, quite dark rooms, built on the site of two kilns. They lived there 1930 to 1963. In fact the lightest room was CS Lewis bedroom but would have been the coldest too with two outside walls! He kept the door locked between him and Mrs. Moore and had stairs to the ground outside, so it would look right!
We were given a tour of the house and a brief history of his time there. The first room we went to was where CS Lewis received visitors. Blanket was used for the curtains (the original ones fell apart!), walls were nicotine stained and ash was put on the carpet to keep the moths away. We went through several downstairs bedrooms to a library. When he died there were 5,000 books in the house. Some were going up the stairs (I felt good about that as I have books going up the stairs!)The library was called “The Grudge”, a copy of the rooms at Merton College. He wasn’t allowed to have his unusual family with him and his fellow lecturers found Narnia embarrassing. They weren’t detective novels, which was considered ok! The group showed interest in a painting – The Bird and Baby Sign, where the inklings met. It is now “The Eagle and child”. The piano was there where Maureen (Mrs Moore’s daughter) had lessons.
Warnies rooms were where he could escape from the women of the house. There were various photographs of CS Lewis and the family in the rooms. At the top of the steep stairs in the attic there was a model of Narnia –snow covered trees and the lamp post which was tastefully done. Finally we finished in the kitchen and then the dining room. There was alot of land with the house but this was sold for houses, and the lake (a disused quarry) and site of the underground bunker has been made into a nature reserve. We visited this afterwards.
Our next stop was Holy Trinity Church where CS Lewis worshipped for over thirty years. He didn’t like staying behind and talking to people, the same with his lectures! We were shown the graves of CS Lewis and Mrs Moore. Then went into the church to view the window which has been etched with scenes of Narnia, in memory of a couple of local children who died young. The window changes as the light shines through it. Aslan the Lion is shown as a sun, emphasising the lion as a Christ-like figure radiating light and life. The word Narnia appears amongst the rays of light coming from his mane, emphasising Aslan’s role as life giver to Narnia. It features the Castle Cair Paravel, Fledge, the magic apple tree, a talking tree and other animals. I thought it was tastefully done.