After forgetting to eat breakfast I start the brisk (and very cold) walk into college. It’s only a 15 minute walk, but I still manage to slip twice on the morning ice on Magdalen Bridge. The New College chapel and old Oxford city wall never fail to look beautiful in the morning. I get distracted and take some photos before heading into the library.
9:00 – 9:30
The start of the day at New College Library usually involves checking my calendar for scheduled events or visitors. I also check to see if anyone has requested items through our hold request system the night before and fetch the books for them ready to collect from the Click-and-Collect trolley in the hall. As it’s the start of the term, the list gets longer and longer every day – I enlist a couple of Sainsbury’s bags to aid me in my quest. I answer any email enquiries the Deputy Librarian didn’t get to first and check to see if anyone has booked our group study room.
We usually have one or two readers per week come to view our special collections. Requests are varied, from Peter Lombard’s 11th-century commentary on the Psalms to our 16th-century Isaac Newton Papers. It’s always exciting when a reader comes to view something that doesn’t often leave its shelf. Last term, a reader came to view an Italian 16th-century women’s beauty manual, which was nice to see go on a little holiday to the Special Collections reading room. If we have a reader booked in, I spend the morning invigilating, essentially making sure people are handling the books with care and not ripping out any pages as souvenirs. Today someone has booked to see our (possibly) 11th-century Harklean Syriac New Testament, which I fetched from the Bell Tower yesterday. It’s a beautiful volume. If anyone reads Syriac and wants to let me know what it says that would be wonderful.
9.30 – 12.30
I show our reader into our Special Collections reading room, make sure they have pencils and paper or a laptop (no pens allowed), and set the manuscript up on a cushion with snake beads. Invigilating today means I have time to work on longer-term projects, such as writing labels for any upcoming exhibitions, working on an article for the library’s e-journal, writing a script for one of our Curator’s Choice videos, helping run our trainee twitter account, or writing a blog post like this one. Next month we’ll be putting on an exhibition on Queer Love and Literature in our collections for LGBTQ+ History Month, so there’s a lot of preparation to be getting on with. We cannot under any circumstances leave a reader alone with a manuscript, so another member of the teams subs in throughout the morning so I can have tea breaks. Topics of tea-break conversation today: the finer points of the art of the pub quiz, the new Queer Britain Museum that’s opened in King’s Cross, and what if J.R.R. Tolkien stood for Jolkien Rolkien Rolkien Tolkien?
12:45 – 13:45
Lunch time! As I’m sure my fellow college trainees have already mentioned, one of the perks of working at a college library is the free hot lunch. While the medieval dining hall at New College is very impressive, we usually eat in the less-intimidating south undercroft. Today’s menu is mushroom & tarragon soup, followed by parsnips, wild mushrooms and smoked tofu with soubise sauce, and an apple frangipane. After eating I take a walk around the cloisters and gardens. Don’t ask what the mound is for, I genuinely have no idea. I then spend the rest of my lunch break in the New College café with my book club read: Bimini Bon Boulash’s autobiography.
13.45 – 15.30
After lunch I get on with everyday tasks such as processing any new acquisitions that come in. We received a couple of boxes of books over lunch from Blackwell’s that I begin unpacking. I immediately process any books requested by students or academics and notify the reader that their book has arrived. I then start to process the rest of the books. This involves attaching them to a bibliographic record on Aleph, choosing an in-house shelfmark for them and stamping them before adding a spine label, RFID tag, and New College bookplate. I then cover the book with a plastic cover – essentially a cutting and sticking job – and put it on the shelving trolley. Most of our new rare and antiquarian acquisitions don’t have an Aleph record, so I apologetically add them to the Assistant Librarian’s pile for cataloguing. I also update our new book display, temporarily rebranded as a ‘Goodbye 2022!’ display, featuring some of the most interesting reads from last year.
This week students are back from their vacation and the library is really quite busy. Our work in term time is therefore a lot more student-focused, and we invest our time in welfare initiatives as well as everyday tasks like ordering and processing new books for our students. On Monday, for example, we put together a display from our Welfare and Wellbeing collection and gave out tea and chocolates for Brew Monday (Blue Monday with a happier twist).
Unlike some of the other college or Bodleian libraries, we don’t actually have a reader enquiries desk, but rather an open-door policy for our office in the main entrance. There are only 4 of us in the office, trying our best to look as unintimidating as possible, so readers can poke their heads around the door if they need anything. One of the best parts of the job is being greeted with gratitude and relief when returning triumphant with a crucial book needed for an essay (usually due on Monday). As most degrees here require weekly essays, we try our utmost to buy and process books for students as fast as humanly possible if its not already in our collection.
15.30 – 16.00
If there are a lot of new books arriving, processing can take up a lot of my day, but today I have a little time to head back over to the Bell Tower to take a look at the final volume of a late-thirteenth-century Bible particularly rich in strange marginalia, such as fish with human heads. I also take a quick look at our 1512 copy of the Malleus Maleficarum, Hammer of Witches. I plan on talking about the book in one of our Curator’s Choice videos, writing an article on it, then perhaps even centring a small exhibition around it . . . Stay tuned. With so many funky manuscripts to look at, I pore through a couple more looking for marginalia and strangely drawn animals to post on our social media.
16.00 – 17.00
In the last hour of the day, I get on with creating content for our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). We try to stay quite active on social media, both to showcase our special collections and keep our readers up to date with our new acquisitions, reader services, and any upcoming exhibitions. Our particular focus at the moment is promoting our LGBTQ+ History Month Exhibition, so do come along on 25th February to make my work worthwhile!
After getting distracted making a Twitter Header on Canva, I say my goodbyes and head over to the Rad Cam to get on with some non-library work before making my way to the pub.