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Image for the news item ''Blessed to be a blessing'' on 3 Sep 2020
Karen with her dog Milu

We continue to celebrate the women who have come to Emma over the last 40 years with a piece from Dr Karen Attar (1988), Curator of Rare Books and University Art at the University of London.  Karen speaks about how her time at Emma contributed not only to her career but also to her life more broadly, and about the responsibility of Emma members to use their education in the wider world. 

After doing a doctorate on Old Norse chivalric romances at Emma, I became, by circuitous means, an academic librarian. As the Curator of Rare Books and University Art at the central library for the University of London, I love the privilege of regularly handling old books, examining their make-up, learning from annotations about their former owners, and on the side becoming the Librarian’s unofficial historian. In 2016 I edited a reference work, the third edition of the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

Emma was very good to me, among other things allowing me to stay in the same room in Park Lodge for all three of my years. The College invests in us and has faith in us. I continue to write academically (albeit on library history, not Old Norse), and although I’d be motivated to do so whatever my background, I think that a sense of the extreme excellence and exclusiveness of my education fuels the desire, as the most appropriate way of saying “thank you”.

The degree has made it easy to build bridges quickly with pure academics with whom I liaise, providing as it does an instant point of sympathy. I particularly enjoy contacts with Emmanuel people: for example, as reviews editor of the journal Library & Information History, having relevant Emmanueleans both as authors and reviewers. Some of my dealings are with former Emmanueleans, such as Richard Farmer (Master) as a Shakespearean scholar, and Thomas Hawes (M.A. 1687), who became a vicar and who owned a number of books in a parish library under my care. Continued access to the University Library is invaluable.

Yet the main way Emma has enriched my life has not in fact been academic. As part of my job, I give conference papers and I provide displays to support conferences for the School of Advanced Study. After I had sent in a proposal for a paper on “The Evidence of Reading”, the organiser emailed, commenting: “I think I recognise your name … are you an Emmanuelean?” She clearly was, we met up, and have been firm friends ever since.

I’d love to work in Cambridge, but simultaneously see a Cambridge education as rendering us “blessed to be a blessing”, to go out further. The most direct way of thanking the College may well be via a Library treasures volume.

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