A Day in the Life of the Oxford Union Trainee

9.15am   I arrive and help my colleagues open up the Library. This involves a lot of light switches, unlocking various doors and drawers using a wide selection of keys and provides the rare treat of enjoying a moment or two in the Old Library all by yourself: an amazing chance to glance up and marvel at the Pre-Raphaelite murals and William Morris painted ceiling. If I’m honest, working here has ruined my expectations for workplace interior décor…

The Old Library

I check the returns box for any overnight deposits and scan them in, sorting books for reshelving. Then it is time to check emails and ensure everything is ready to go for when the readers start to arrive at 9.30am.

9.30am   During term time, I’m either on desk duty for the morning or afternoon. This gives me a chance to get on with processing and classifying any new books, before adding them on SOLO – a job that is easy to break away from to help students with any enquiries or to loan and return books. Members of the public who wish to visit the murals also come to the library desk as their first port of call. During the vacation, we offer talks to groups on the history of the murals – I’ve recently given my first one, which was quite nerve-wracking but actually very enjoyable once I got into the swing of it! During term-time though, we only allow small groups to visit so that they don’t disturb the readers. Each visitor gets a little pamphlet to allow them to self-guide, or they can hire one of our brilliant audio guides, which will give them a much fuller history.

11.00am   Tea! We all stop work for a cup of tea and a chat (and a chocolate or two if anyone has been on holiday recently!) This is great as it allows us to catch up with each other, and to bounce ideas or questions around as well.

1.00pm   Lunch. Nom. During term time we can have soup or a sandwich from the Union bar, which is brilliant; however, during vacation time I have to remember to a) make my lunch before leaving home, and b) remember to put said lunch in my bag and actually bring it in to work with me. I am not always successful.

1.30pm   Back to work. If I’m back at my desk then there is always lots to do – I have several ongoing projects, such as organising the shelf-labelling (we’ve done some book moving recently), labelling books that myself or the others have added to SOLO, or I might have a new display to create to communicate to our members. I will also take the time to work on entering data into the Union History Database – there are so many events at the Union that this can take quite a long time! So far, I’ve managed to upload three full year’s worth of events – only another 190 years’ worth to go…

2.15pm   During term time, we have weekly Library Committee meetings. Made up of Union members, both junior (undergraduates) and senior (postgrads and members who are no longer at uni), this is chaired by the Junior Librarian, an elected officer. I serve as the Minutes Secretary, so every Monday it is up to me to prepare the papers for the meeting. These consist of book lists, DVD lists, suggestions from members, lists of books being considered for withdrawal, and any other agenda items, such as the complaints book, or reports on a particular aspect of the library’s work. I take the minutes during the meeting, and am then responsible for typing them up and distributing them to the committee members afterwards. It is quite a lot of work, but it is great to have so much reader involvement in the library.

3.30pm   Tea! You can never have too much tea.

4.00pm   During the vacation period I might do some shelving, as our shelver only works during term time. We also do half an hour each of shelf-tidying a week. This helps to keep the library looking fabulous, but also helps us to find any books that have been misplaced, or to re-label any that aren’t easy for readers to see.

5.00pm   Home! Unless it is a Tuesday during term time, in which case it is my turn for evening duty. We each do one day a week during the term, keeping the library open till 7.00pm. This is especially useful for the readers in Trinity term when they are studying for exams – I always feel a little mean for turfing them out in order to lock up!

Working at the Oxford Union is wonderful, because though it is a relatively small space, the fact that we lend our books means that it is always busy with readers. Being part of a small team has also meant that I have been able to get involved with lots of different areas of work, so I feel that I have learnt an awful lot in quite a short space of time. I will continue to work here for the next two years, whilst studying for the MA at UCL – and I’m really looking forward to it!

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