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The John Trim Memorial Library has a prestigious history. The collection began its life some fifty years ago as the Language Teaching Library of CILT, the Centre for Language Teaching, which was established in London on the 27th July 1966. CILT was an independent charitable foundation, principally funded by central Government grants with the remit to collect, co-ordinate and disseminate information about all aspects of modern language teaching and learning, for the benefit of teachers and others professionally concerned in Great Britain. At this time, the British Council was fulfilling a similar information function for teachers of English through the English Teaching Information Centre (ETIC), so, it made logical sense that a joint CILT/ETIC Language Teaching Library was developed under the leadership of George Perren, Director of ETIC and the first Director of CILT. The library was soon to earn a distinguished reputation as a unique open access resource, supporting the teaching profession in the UK and internationally.

From those early days, CILT was already benefiting from the vision and international scholarship of John Trim, a prominent phonetician and leading linguist who, in the same year, 1966, established the first Department of Linguistics in the University of Cambridge. John was highly influential in shaping and expanding CILT activity. He contributed to ground-breaking conferences and colloquia, and made significant contributions to the first two volumes of CILT Reports and Papers, addressing policy, pedagogy and research. CILT was to play a full part in the Council of Europe’s first ten-year Major Project in Modern Languages, encouraged and guided by John Trim and Professors Eric Hawkins and Peter Strevens. It was largely due to John’s influence that CILT expanded its remit to include research and outreach. John Trim was Director of CILT from 1978 to 1986. Throughout this period, John was also the Director of the Council of Europe’s Modern Languages Projects, a role that he accomplished with distinction for more than a quarter of a century from 1971 to 1997.

The Language Teaching Library was at the heart of all of CILT’s activities, providing reliable information for teachers and researchers from across the world. The contents of the library are comprehensive. The library collection includes Periodicals on Applied Linguistics, Psycholinguistics and Pragmatics; there are collections of specialist journals in specific languages, including the languages of Europe, and the wider world; in addition to publications on the teaching of modern foreign languages, the collection includes publications addressing Child Language, Migrant Education and the Teaching of English for Speakers of Other Languages, and Languages for Specific Purposes. The Library provided abstracts of key publications for teachers, keeping practitioners informed about the latest research reports and offering professional guidance, including updates on current innovations in methodology, the use of CALL (computer assisted language learning) and other forms of technology, and developments in curriculum policy and assessment practice.

While the Library has always enjoyed the support of linguists and teachers of languages, its survival has been threatened on more than one occasion over the last fifty years. Each change of government administration and vacillating attitudes towards the value of languages to the nation’s future brought its existence into question. CILT started out in State House, High Holborn in 1966 and then moved to Carlton House Terrace in 1974. In 1984, a mid-term rent review resulted in an exorbitant rent rise of some £1 million per annum, and CILT and the Library had to rapidly find alternative accommodation, this time in Regent’s College. From 1979 to 1986, there was a period of constant review with reduced government funding and restrictions on planning beyond the current year. But CILT and the Library continued to impress. Following a public consultation in 1986, Sir Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Education and Science formally acknowledged the importance of CILT’s work. Sir Keith put forward an agenda which seems as relevant today as it was thirty years ago: I would encourage CILT to emphasise aspects of its work which relate to language teaching for the purposes of practical communication; and also consider whether more can be done to provide appropriate support for industry and commerce and indeed to seek support from them.

CILT was to move premises on two further occasions. In 1992, the National Curriculum for Languages came into force and CILT, appointed a new Director, Dr. Lid King and moved to 20 Bedfordbury, Covent Garden.  It was in Covent Garden, where arguably, it was to achieve some of its most strategic work, first, in supporting the introduction of the National Curriculum and its policy of languages for all; then, in pioneering the introduction of early language learning through the Good Practice Project, and setting up NACELL (National Advisory Centre for Early Language Learning). CILT was to play a critical role in supporting the implementation of the National Languages Strategy: Languages for all; languages for life 2002 to 2010, establishing a vibrant network of regional Comenius Centres across the UK.  In 2003, CILT merged with the Languages National Training Organisation, extending its brief further to include the development and oversight of National Occupational Standards for Languages and promoting links between professional language providers, business and schools.

CILT was to make its final move in December 2007 to the third floor of an office block at 111 Westminster Bridge Road. On each occasion, the central concern was to find adequate space for the unique Library Collection, which grew to accommodate resources for the support of every new area of language development.

In March 2011, government funding was finally withdrawn from CILT. It became part of the educational charity CfBT and left its offices in London. The library remained in the empty premises and its future was uncertain. Through the intervention of Bernardette Holmes, then President Elect of the Association for Language Learning and Director of Languages First at the University of Cambridge Language Centre and Linda Parker, Director of ALL, an appeal went out to the languages community to rescue the Library. ALL and the Cambridge Language Centre bought the Library from the Administrators and paid for its removal to temporary storage. In a press release, Bernardette Holmes said: “The CILT library is part of the heritage of the language teaching community and I am delighted that we have been able to work with all parts of our community to save this unique collection for future generations of linguists.”

First to answer the appeal for help was Cambridge University Press, generously offering to store the crates in its warehouse, until a permanent home could be found.  But by 2013, CUP was undergoing significant expansion and needed to vacate the warehouse. Once again, the Library collection faced the skip. Dr. Nick Saville, Director of Cambridge English, valiantly stepped in and Cambridge Assessment agreed to house the Library temporarily in its warehouse in Duxford. Volunteers from ALL and Cambridge University, including enthusiastic students of languages and linguistics came forward and joined Bernardette Holmes in packing and unpacking the collection, keeping the publications in order, and in pristine condition. However, storing the crates in Duxford was only a reprieve.

Finding a home for the collection proved very difficult, but saving the Library was a cause worth fighting for. At the Speak to the Future Symposium: Languages 2020 and beyond which took place on the 17th October 2014 at the Language Show in Olympia, London, Bernardette Holmes was to meet Dr. John Goodyear, Director of Studies and Gesellschafter at the Academy of English, Oldenburg. It was not too long before both colleagues determined to explore the possibilities of rehousing the Library collection at the Academy. The ultimate aim was once again to provide open access to its unique content to scholars and teachers of languages and linguistics from across Europe and the wider world. It took the best part of eighteen months to organise, but the mission has been accomplished.

Finally, in 2016, fifty years after its inception, the newly named John Trim Memorial Library has found a new permanent home in the Academy of English, Oldenburg. This is a remarkable story and a remarkable achievement.

There are many people who deserve thanks in this endeavour. Linda Parker, former Director of the Association for Language Learning, Heidi Mulvey, CUP, Dr. Nick Saville, Director Cambridge English, the many volunteers who helped to pack and unpack the collection, the friends of the Library who contributed to the removal costs and to the hire of crates, but none more so, than Dr. John Goodyear, whose perseverance, vision and belief in the Library has made this dream a reality. Thanks are also due to the many helpers at the Academy of English who have painstakingly restored the collection to shelves and have brought it to life again.

At the outset, John Trim and George Perren shared a dream to develop the CILT/ETIC Library as a common resource, attempting to build bridges between teachers of English and teachers of modern languages. Inspired by the work of Professor Eric Hawkins in language awareness, they believed that ‘language studies should find their appropriate place within a coherent universe, calling upon a common theoretical base though developing in different directions in accordance with their diverse functions and audiences.’ (Trim, 1996) Now, with the opening of the John Trim Memorial Library, we have the opportunity to develop fresh approaches to language learning, where teachers and scholars of English and other languages can come together and explore matters of mutual interest, underpinned by the Common Framework of Reference (CFR).

John Trim understood the central importance of sharing each other’s languages and cultures to social cohesion, and was one of the first champions of plurilingualism, providing guidance and advice to the Council of Europe on all matters of languages policy and practice. His legacy has never been of greater relevance. In 2016, we face a world in transit and in conflict, where despite the spread of English as a global language, communication and cultural understanding are often underdeveloped. Those who speak only one language represent a vanishing generation, for the world is increasingly multilingual, and yet, communication skills are often deficient. The implications are clear: language and culture are essential constituents of education for the 21st century.

The opening of the John Trim Memorial Library in its new home at the Academy of English is the first modest step in continuing the work of one of the profession’s greatest linguists and Europeans. Here’s to the prestigious future of languages 2066.

Bernardette Holmes, MBE

John Trim Obituary by Professor Manfred Prokop
CILT Presentation by David E. Newton

John Trim: Fellow of the Association for Language Lerning
Bildung: Bibliothek aus Cambridge sucht Heimat (NWZ)


Trim, J, L, M (1996) A View from the Bridge (30:321) in 30 Years of Language Teaching Edited by Eric Hawkins, CILT

Ingram, D. (2001) Language Centres: Their roles, functions and management.  John Benjamins Publishing

Holmes, B. (2014) The Vanishing Monolingual – why the ability to speak other languages is defining success for the 21st Century MML Annual Lecture Festival of Ideas University of Cambridge