Diana Bell and Cambridge school children with the Big Book outside Cambridge University Library

It may already be home to more than seven million books, but Cambridge University Library is to host one of the world’s biggest books from May 19-21.

Cambridge University Library is home to books of all shapes and sizes, but Diana's book is clearly something special.

Sue Mehrer, Deputy Librarian, Cambridge University Library

Visitors to the Library on those days can let their imagination run wild with a huge 2.2 metre high, walk-in book, placed at the front of the building designed by Giles Gilbert Scott.

The Big Book, entitled Imagine, is a leather-bound wooden sculpture that invites the ‘reader’ to step inside and write their own individual answer to the question: “What do you imagine?”

The work of artist Diana Bell, the Big Book will be on display at the front entrance to the University Library, on West Road, on Thursday 19th, Friday 20th and Saturday 21st of May. The project is sponsored by the Library and Cambridge University Press.

The book made its debut at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, last year, when 1,200 people contributed in four days. Since then it has been an international traveller, collecting the thoughts of people in more than 57 languages.

The Big Book represents not only the huge role books play in our society, but also how individuals collaborate and work together in search of knowledge. All the contributions are handwritten, in contrast to the challenges of the digital age that publishers now face.

Diana Bell said: “The reason the contributions are all handwritten is to emphasise the huge role individuality and imagination plays in our lives, and the empathy and interaction it allows us to have. I didn’t think contributing online would have the same impact, but all the contributions are scanned and placed on the Big Book website, so I am definitely embracing the digital age too!”

So far about 1,900 people have written in the book, approximately 250 people per page. Diverse contributions include: “I imagine I could walk”, from a person in a wheelchair; “I imagine being an artist”, from a nine-year-old boy; “Try to imagine a totally new life“; “Imagine if humans were not the dominant species on the planet?”; “Imagine if all the bees died”, and “Imagine if we truly learned”.

And now it is time for the people of Cambridge to have their say, and take their place in the Big Book.

Community Relations Manager for Cambridge University Press, Heidi Mulvey, said: “Our principal purpose is to advance knowledge and education and projects like this are a real inspiration. Diana’s project is so inclusive and engaging and we are delighted to be able to help bring this thought-provoking art project to Cambridge.”

A class from St. Luke’s Primary School and participants from Romsey Mill, the charity that works to overcome disadvantage and promote social inclusion, the Press’s sponsored charity for this year, will be amongst the first to write in the book at 10am on Thursday 19th.

Deputy Librarian Sue Mehrer said: " This event is a wonderful opportunity for everyone who visits to be a part of Diana's work and record their thoughts. We look forward to welcoming as many people as possible to meet the artist and take part in the project."

The Big Book will be outside Cambridge University Library’s main entrance on West Road from 10am-7pm on Thursday, May 19th and Friday, May 20th, and between 10am-5pm on Saturday, May 21st.

Diana added, “Imagine. Participate. Contribute. Absolutely everyone is invited, all languages, all age groups. I am particularly keen for contributions from mathematicians and scientists ­– are we the only animal that has imagination? Why do we have imaginary numbers? I will be on hand throughout the three days to answer any questions and encourage everyone to be part of this.”

After the visit, contributors can view their page, and others, at www.imaginethebigbook.com

Cambridge University Library is home to more than seven million books and is one of only six Legal Deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland – entitling it to a free copy of every book, journal, map and music published in the United Kingdom.

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