St Hilda’s is, I think, something of a special college. It was the last in Oxford to start admitting men, becoming co-educational in 2008. It is (I’m told) the only college east of the river Cherwell. Our buildings are dotted around several acres of open gardens, rather than bound up in quadrangles. And, our 60,000+ holdings aren’t on SOLO (the university-wide catalogue) but can be perused instead through our own Heritage catalogue.
And now it’s where I work! I’m Liam, and I’m the graduate trainee at the Kathleen Major Library at St Hilda’s this year. I finished an MA in political theory at the University of Sheffield over the summer, and before that I read philosophy at Jesus College, Cambridge, so I’m currently learning to replace one set of jargon (e.g. court, supervision, bedder) with another (quad, tutorial, scout).
It’s an interesting time for the Hilda’s library at the moment, as we’re currently making the transition to self-service issue and return. A fair chunk of my time in the couple of weeks that I’ve been here has been spent electronically tagging books and troubleshooting the new equipment (should that be glowing/beeping and, if not, how do we stop it glowing/beeping?). Today’s new challenge is to work out how to add items like bookstands and keys to the system, and, in the latter case, where to source the large pieces of wood we think we might want to attach to them. As you might expect, I’ve also spent a lot of time staffing our issue desk and processing and shelving books, which has been great for getting to know our readers and our catalogue.
An ongoing project of mine is to create more shelf space to clear the backlog of new books that currently have no home to go to. Our medicine and biology collections, for example, are housed in rolling stacks in our basement and are currently extremely congested (no medical pun intended). Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just moving stock around – instead, I’m having to virtually dismantle and rebuild our shelving, with the help of the delightfully-named shelf clips called “tonks”. I’m hoping to get this all finished as soon as possible as I imagine the amount of time I can spend lurking in the stacks will decrease dramatically once our undergrads return. I’m also hoping to start a project this term on surveying our damaged books and assessing whether they can be repaired in-house, or whether they should be sent off for more serious repairs or replaced.
St Hilda’s is an extremely peaceful place to work. Only members of the College can regularly use the library (although we do get visitors, particularly to the Archives), and, tucked away down Cowley Place as we are, not many tourists find us. The Cherwell wends its way through the grounds, disturbed only by the ducks and the assorted punters of varying aptitude. We’re a very small library team, with only the Librarian, the Archivist, and myself at present as we await the arrival of our new Assistant Librarian. This is fantastic, not just because it means I know everyone I work with very well, but because I get to do a bit of everything and gain experience very quickly across the board.
We have a training session this afternoon at the Bodleian offices out at Osney Mead, so I’d better make the most of the rest of the morning and get back down to the stacks!