Collections Bites: University research and public engagement

by | May 5, 2020 | Guest Authors | 0 comments

We love hearing directly from our staff, students and Public Contributors (members of the public who are involved and engaged with the Faculty’s research and teaching) about their Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) activities. This blog category features pieces written by guest authors from across the University. 

Our guest author is Caroline Hall, Visitor Engagement Assistant at the John Rylands University Library, on supporting engagement with our collections:

The John Rylands Library (JRL) at The University of Manchester, is a research library based on Deansgate which attracts over 350,000 visitors a year. The library houses collections on a range of subjects including science, travel, poetry and Manchester’s social history. The team at JRL also work with University researchers in a number of areas supporting their use of our Special Collections. One way we’re exploring new approaches to our Public Engagement is through our ‘Collection Bites’.

Collection Bites are specifically designed events JRL hosts to engage local visitors and workers in the city with our collections over lunchtime. Topics for the events are chosen to complement the wonderful research interests of the University, offering amazing opportunities for both the public and researchers to explore the collections together. Our Visitor Engagement team are experts in understanding our visitors and in digesting information in accessible ways, and the team are keen to develop opportunities to connect the public with University researchers.

For our first Collection Bites in March, I worked with Charlotte Hoare, Special Collections Librarian funded by the Wellcome Trust, who works with the library’s medical collections. We decided to explore the history of medical diagnosis using urine (or ‘uroscopy’) from 16th -20th century. Urine has been an essential part of medical diagnosis from the ancient times to the Victorian age; it was a window into the body’s inner workings before blood tests, microscopes and radiology.  As medical knowledge evolved urine diagnosis knowledge was shared and became standardised by the 20th century.

Charlotte and I decided to use a mixture of printed books and manuscripts from The John Rylands Library to look at urine diagnosis across the ages and some of those advancements. These included such treasurers as Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665), ‘On Urine’ (early 16th century) and objects borrowed from the Museum of Medicine and Health, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, including a urine sugar testing kit from the 1940s (without the urine!).

This combination of books and objects proved successful with the public who came to the Collection Bite session. Audiences were just as fascinated by a 17th century uroscopy colour chart –  using poetic descriptions such ‘White as wellwater’ and ‘Green as green cabbage’ to describe urine colour – as the bacteriological test kit from the early 20th century.  Everyone who attended the event fed back their enjoyment and interest in the collection, including a formal bacteriologist who was able to explain to the group how to use the testing kit. Some nurses who attended also took our list of vivid urine colour descriptions – written by the German physician Ulrich Pindar in the 17th century – back to work to share with their colleagues!

This event allowed us to share aspects of the collection that members of the public may have never known existed at the library, and helped to promote the opportunity for visitors to use our Reader Services to explore the collection for themselves once the Library is reopened.

In the meanwhile we encourage our visitors to explore our vast collections through the digital databases of Manchester Digital Collections and Library Digital Collections. Further Collection Bites are planned on a range of different topics including Japanese maps, American poetry and the Wood Street Mission they are free and open to all. Events will be listed on the John Rylands Events page.

Written by Caroline Hall (@Northern_Hall)

If you would like to share your PPIE activity with our readers, please email us at For more information about other PPIE events, training and funding opportunities, you can sign up to our monthly digest, visit our website, follow us on twitter or email For further PPIE resources, visit the Faculty’s PPIE Toolkit.


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