Tales From the Stacks: Solving a Mystery

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

EDIT: You can now find this British Association for the Advancement of Science printing block on our catalogue. Please contact the Local and Family History department to arrange a viewing.

This blog was supposed to be about something else; instead, it’s about this:


That question was posed back in September (2015!) and elicited a variety of responses: a hand-stamp, a block print, perhaps even something left behind by a starman. It’s taken five months, but we can now reveal the answer to this great mystery; an answer that was found when we were actually on the hunt down for materials relating to the intended subject of this week’s blog: James Yates, one of the early Librarians for this service.

Instead of (or, rather, as well as) finding that Yates’ material, we stumbled across an intriguing envelope entitled “British Association for the Advancement of Science [Leeds] 129th Annual Meeting”. Hmmm, we thought – could that British Association be the same “British Ass. Meeting” on the spine of our singular item? Looking closer at the envelope contents, among a myriad of information about the Association’s 1967 meeting in Leeds, we found something very interesting indeed:


Interesting indeed! That image – the symbol, we could only presume – for the British Association for the Advancement of Science bore a staggering resemblance to our mysterious item. And, while we couldn’t get ours to ‘sit’ in exactly the same formation as the Association’s symbol, we think you’ll agree that a side-by-side comparison reveals the truth – in part – of our strange block:


And, if it is this Association’s symbol, our guess is that the item was in fact a block print, perhaps one given away to attendees of the meeting. So, now we think we know *what* it is – but, we ask, how did it come to be in the library’s holdings? Well, a glance through the programme of events for the 1967 meeting leads to one tantalising clue…

Alongside the main lectures and meetings that the British Association offered during their annual events, the organisation also offered a Young People’s Programme running concurrently with those central activities. A major part of that programme was to be a Science Fair, designed to “provide young people, whose ages range from those at the infant’s school to those in sixth forms, with the opportunity to exhibit work which, in most cases, they themselves have conceived and planned, and to show their skill in demonstrating and explaining their exhibits to visitors”. In fact, the first Science Fair (then operating independently to the annual meeting) was arranged by the West Riding Branch of the Association and held in Leeds during 1961.

For the 1967 Science Fair a series of “Special Exhibitions” were held to showcase a trio of organisations whose work in some way supported or complemented the aims of the Science Fair and the wider goal of educational excellence. And…one of those organisations was the “Leeds School of Librarianship”, based in the Department of Librarianship and Information Sciences of the College of Commerce in Leeds. While that College didn’t seem to have any direct connection to this Library, is it possible that a member of library staff – perhaps a recent graduate from the Department of Librarianship – made the short trip to Cookridge Street, where the Fair was being held, to see old colleagues or tutors? Could they have picked up a block print that was being given away at the Fair by the British Association, brought it back to the Library and, finding it as intriguing as we now do, placed it deep into our stacks for its preservation?

We shall, in all probability, never know the full story. History, as always, retains some mystery for itself.

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