Hello! Our names are Freddie and Miriam and we are the new Graduate Trainees for the Old Bodleian Library aka the Old Bod, Old Schools, Schools Quadrangle. We spend much of our time in the Upper Reading Room, Lower Reading Room, and Duke Humfrey’s, but we also sometimes venture underground to the Gladstone Link to fetch books and scan requests.
What were you doing last year?
MK: I’d just finished an Oxford undergrad, studying Medieval English Language and Literature, and I decided to spend more time living here in the wake of that. I worked a variety of jobs with the university’s Temporary Staffing Service and Disability Advisory Service, as well as working part time in technically-three Bodleian libraries, and in direct disability care. After the pandemic hit, I was doing some of that but from home, but largely had a lot of unstructured time, which I spent remotely attending Jewish studies courses and Medieval studies conferences, and also going on long walks and swimming in rivers.
FH: I did Geography at Durham University, and graduated last year. I did a few library odds and ends while I was at university; I volunteered for a bit at the County Record Office, and was music librarian for a few of the university orchestras. Since graduating last year I moved to Manchester for a bit to see what it was like, and volunteered in the Portico Library. Manchester is a really good place for libraries! Oxford seems a very good place for libraries too…
Why did you apply?
FH: I love organisation, I love books, I love helping people. I mostly love being in libraries; why not get paid to be in one?? I also really enjoy being in an academic environment without actually doing the academic part. This is partly schadenfreude, but it is also about enjoying eclecticism; I like variety, and being able to dip my toes in lots of different pies while helping out with research enquiries.
MK: Very similar to Freddie, actually! I was looking for jobs that would let me do a mix of physically moving things around, problem-solving, being adjacent to academia, talking to people, and being concretely helpful. I also really like putting things in satisfying and correct Orders, whether that be shelving or sorting files in our scan repository. So, yes, I loved that this role gives us a variety of tasks using a variety of skills, plus opportunities to talk to people and be concretely useful to them.
What is your favourite shelfmark? (see Appendix)
FH: I like the Lower Reading Room ones, they are probably the easiest to comprehend. A shelfmark like C.Gr.H.15 or C.Lat.A.302 has a comforting air to it.
But I also love Nicholson because it is so chaotic. 2345.e.123 is a standard shelfmark; there is a decimal point after the 2 in the first number, but it is invisible just to make it hard. The shelfmarks run from 900 (read 0.900) via 100 (1.00) to 399 (3.99), apparently because Nicholson was a sadist. Shelfmarks are divided into subjects, but reading the index is like looking into the mind of a madman, though one who was admittedly rather organised. The number of zeroes after the imaginary decimal point also matters: 124 = Christian evidence, general; 1240 = Christian evidence, documentary; 12400 = Christian evidence, miracles. It’s a mess, but it’s historical, so it stays.
MK: Oh, the LRR shelfmarks make zero sense, but I also really like them. I find it endearing that they end with simple numbers which just indicate where in the sequence they are, like, C.Lat.15/25 being next to C.Lat.15/26. There aren’t that many steps between it and just, someone placing their books in vague subject order and then numbering them, and I respect that.
I’m also biased in favour of them because Freddie and I have spent the most time working with them, and because I love patristics. In a similar vein, any time I get to shelve or scan something related to Old or Middle English I am immensely happy about it, so there’s a special place in my heart forthe A.4.23 run in the Upper Reading Room, where the Early English Text Society books live.
In terms of least favourite shelfmarks, returning to the Lower Reading Room, I do hate the C.Per situation with all my heart.
What’s your favourite view in the Old Bod?
FH: I like the view of New College Tower on the east side of the Upper Reading Room. Dreaming spires, blah blah blah.
I also like the view of the Exeter College gardens from Duke Humfrey’s. The trees are lovely, and you can watch the poor gardener walking endlessly round with a leafblower.
MK: I really like the windows in the Tower Room of Upper, with the brightly-coloured stained-glass birds in the windows! There’s a painting in the staff area of one of them which depicts the windowsill area there, which I enjoy a lot, and the colourfulness of the birds really adds to the multicoloured wall and ceiling painting charm of the whole room. If we’re allowed Duke Humfrey’s ones, I like the big arch-shaped ones in Selden End when the light streams through them. I know it’s cliche, but also, look at them.
That’s the end of our Q&A, and hopefully you now know some random facts about shelfmarks in the Bodleian. We are really looking forward to the rest of the year working in this beautiful building!
Shelfmarks in the Old Bodleian and the Gladstone link:
Lower Reading Room:
Shelfmarks beginning with B., C., T., Th., Pat. and Phil.
B, C.Gen, C.Lang, C.Num, C.Gr., C.Lat to C.Lat.V, C.Gr to C.Gr.Z, C.Hist, C.Hist.Gr. C.Hist.Rom, C.Epig., C.Index, C.Ref.A-D., C.Dict, C. Per; Th.Ref.A-B, Th.B, Th.Dict, Th.H, Th.J, Th.Liturg, Th.P to Th. W, Th.Y.A-Z, Th.Text; Pat.Gr. and Pat.Lat., T.Atlas, T.Bibl., T.Bible.D to T.Bible.H, T.Gen., T.Text., T.Text.Gr. and T.Text.Lat.; Phil.Ref., Phil.A-H, Phil.Text
Plus some Library of Congress (otherwise it would be too easy)
Upper Reading Room:
A1-8 or K3 and 5-10
Lower Gladstone Link:
Library of Congress; eg. AA123.A1 SMI 2011
General Lower Gladstone Link shelfmarks; M04.e.1234
Upper Gladstone Link:
History Faculty Library of Congress; DA, HQ etc
History Faculty Library S.Hist
Priceless manuscripts we’re not allowed to touch, marked with their original bay numbers
Periodicals etc e.g. R. Top. 436
C.Acad (unsure what this one is)