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Unlocking Libraries

Access & Participation with Cambridge University Libraries

Study Skills: Example Sessions

Here are some examples of previous study skills sessions run by Cambridge libraries with school groups, to illustrate some of the varied types of study skills sessions libraries can offer. These case-studies demonstrate the ways in which library staff can work with students, academics and others in the University to offer engaging events for school-age students. Library staff may be well-placed to bring people together in order to provide an event which connects student experience, research and libraries in a new and exciting way. Sessions listed:

  • Black History Month with the African Studies Library
  • Research exercise in a college library
  • Jewish manuscripts with the Genizah Research Unit
  • Historical printing room at the University Library
  • Courtroom conundrum code-breaking at the Squire Law library
  • Critical evaluation of sources at the University Library: Greenwashing!
  • Introducing critical academic reading: breaking it down

If you have questions about the sessions below, or wish to enquire about bespoke sessions or topics, please contact us for more details

Example Sessions


Black History Month display with storyteller, African Studies LibraryBlack History Month - African Studies Library

The Black History Month workshop at the African Studies Library was a result of collaboration and partnership between Jenni Skinner, the African Studies Librarian and an MSt student in Social Innovation. They designed a half-day event which focused on the power of stories and how stories create narratives in history. Through a series of exercises, the group reframed historical Black stories and discussed the power of narrative types. This was coupled with a tour of the African Studies library and a photography exhibition.

On another occasion, Jenni collaborated with Newnham College and the same MSt student to offer an event including mini-lectures, discussions with academic staff, a chance to visit the library and the opportunity to explore some of its amazing collections. In addition, current African and Black British students, at all levels of study and across a variety of subjects, were invited to speak to the school groups about their experiences of university, what they were studying or researching, and their routes to Cambridge.



A librarian discusses a book with a student, Sidney Sussex College LibraryResearch Exercise - Sidney Sussex College Library

Alan Stevens, the Librarian at Sidney Sussex College, ran this research exercise with the HE+ Wigan/Warrington Residential, a subject-specific residential for 120 Year 12 students interested in a wide range of subjects. They were split into groups of about 40. Each pupil was already working on a research question, and after a short introduction, they used catalogue searching and shelf browsing to find relevant books. They were assisted by the Librarian, the Schools Liaison Officer, and some of the students who had been their guides around the College. They made notes relevant to their work, based on what they had found.

Feedback from students was that this was one of the best aspects of their visit, and they appreciated getting an insight into using the working Library of the College as they would if they were Cambridge students.



School students examine manuscripts as part of a visit with the Genizah Research Unit.Jewish Manuscripts - Genizah Research Unit

The Genizah Research Unit hosts school visits on a regular basis as part of the Littman Genizah Educational Programme. Year 9 students from the Hasmonean High School in London, an Orthodox Jewish School, come each year for a session with the Genizah Research Unit. Sessions last for around an hour featuring a lecture-style presentation and a chance to examine a selection of manuscripts, including Jewish religious texts as well as items of social history from the Middle Ages. The students leave with a booklet with images of manuscripts and translations.

The hands-on examination of the manuscripts invariably proves the most exciting part of the visit. Teachers report that the students are "fascinated by the exhibition and are excited to learn about the relevance of its discoveries to their own lives".


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Printing presses at the University Library

Historical Printing Room, University Library 

The Historical Printing Room at Cambridge University Library contains a replica wooden printing press, several nineteenth-century iron presses and a large collection of printing type and blocks. Some items are rare and of considerable significance in the history of printing.

Visitors to the room learn how books were printed during the letterpress period, from the mid fifteenth until the early nineteenth century. They may also have an opportunity to print their own keepsake as a memento of their visit. For further information contact the Unlocking Libraries team




The Courtroom Conundrum code-breaking game - Squire Law Library

Following a series of successful escapes for current Law students, the Squire Law Library Team designed and ran a code-breaking 'escape room-style' session for a group of Year 12 students. The session was developed to introduce studentpapers on a desk with a boxs to a wide range of legal resources such as judgements, case reports and textbooks in a fun environment. Students worked in 3 groups - with each group completing a series of puzzles that required logical reasoning, research and lots of teamwork - but no prior knowledge of Law! Once all the puzzles were solved, each group could open their locked safe and solve The Courtroom Conundrum. 

Students were very enthusiastic and need no encouragement to start hunting for clues - and Lizz and Sarah from the Squire Law Library were on hand to provide hints if needed. Feedback from the students and Student Ambassadors was very positive and the session provides a different way to explore skills such as skim reading and attention to detail. The Courtroom Conundrum session can easily be modified to include more or less puzzles and we normally anticipate that it will take students around 30-45 minutes to solve. 




Fight Greenwashing: your personal DIY toolkit - critically evaluating information sources

This session can be arranged to fit in with residential groups visiting the University and colleges. Ideally this session can be combined with a quiz tour of the University Library and a visit to the most recent exhibition in the Library. The learning outcomes for students during this 45 minute interactive session are:

  • Recognise what greenwashing is and understanding more about their reactions to information provided in different guises
  • Create their own definition of greenwashing
  • Consider why greenwashing is something worth engaging with and how to disentangle fact and fiction for themselves
  • Create their own toolkit and creative ideas for offering alternative viewpoints to others

Amanda and Libby ran this session several times in 2022 and enjoyed working with great groups of 6th form students.



Introducing critical academic reading : breaking it down

Image with words about readingThis session is currently provided online for incoming students to the University and can be explored on the VLE by members of the University to check for usefulness. Paul and Lucy devised the staff to also be available in a 50-60 minute in-person workshop session for 6th form students. The session provides information and tools for students to consider the transition into academic reading and how to engage with that more easily. It is an opportunity for students to sharpen up their skills as well as learn new ones. Importantly students are guided into becoming more productive as well as more critical about what they read. The in-person workshop invites students to work in small groups with a topic that is interdisciplinary.  For more information about this course contact the Unlocking Libraries team

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