Monday 21st February 2022
When I first started working in public libraries in the beginning of 2021, a fellow Library Assistant told me that “library work is all about managing constant interruptions”. She was, unsurprisingly, correct. What I didn’t realise upon hearing this, however, is how delightful some of these interruptions would turn out to be. Here’s just one example of a somewhat bitty but utterly delightful day at the English Faculty Library.
8:40AM – Morning Routines
There are a few things that I try to get out of the way first thing in the morning – they’re small jobs, usually a little piecemeal or done in a different order each day for various reasons:
- Opening up the library: I’m usually first to arrive, so I start by opening up the library for the day. This means checking that we have enough paper in the printers, opening windows, switching on lights, unlocking the computer room, and making sure that reader PCs are turned on. Usually someone else will arrive and help me out (thank goodness!).
- BSF collection: When I sit down at my desk, my first task is to dig out the lapse list from the EFL email account. This list tells me which books I need to pull from the Self Collect shelves in the reading room to return to the BSF. Once I’m done with this, I collect any BSF books that have been self-returned, and then start scanning everything through and packing them into boxes. Usually we’re moving somewhere between 1-3 large blue boxes, so it’s easy for me to take these to the collection area by myself on a trolley.
- Daily admin: After this, I’ll quickly flip through my emails and start actioning items into my task list on Outlook by their priority, check my teams messages, and respond to things that can be dealt with quickly. There’s a very little to deal with today, which makes planning my time much easier!
- Handle anything left on my desk: There are some jobs around the library that are designated trainee tasks, and these will often be left on my desk or in the visible vicinity. This might be something like post, a missing book form, or a claimed return that needs chasing. Today, it’s in-house periodicals! Most periodical subscriptions are available online, but the EFL still holds a small number of print editions in-house – when these are used by readers, they’re passed to me so that I can track their usage on a spreadsheet before they’re reshelved.
9AM – New Periodicals
One of the tasks left on my desk which takes a little more time is a small stack of newly arrived periodicals. These need to first be registered on our periodicals spreadsheet, then checked in on Aleph, then physically processed with stamps, stickers, and tattle tape. Once complete, I’ll pop anything that I can out onto our New Periodicals Display (and move older editions off the display and onto the general shelves).
Another designated trainee task is the processing of new books for the EFL. I try to wait until I have a stack of about 6 new books before I start processing them, as they’re easiest to do in batches. Today, lo and behold, I have a perfect 6 awaiting my attention on my trolley! Our Library Assistant in Charge of Collections has already set them up on Aleph and given them barcodes, so I start by physically processing them with stickers, stamps, and book plates. There’s more to be done with them yet – but first, I have some other urgent business to attend to!
10AM – Trainee Twitter Meeting
Yep – you heard it here first, folks! The current trainee cohort is in the process of setting up our very own Oxford Libraries Trainees twitter account! A small trainee twitter team has been having meetings around once a week for a while now to solidify our ideas, plan our content strategies, and prepare for our launch date. It’s a project I’m really excited to be a part of. It’s a brilliant opportunity to participate in shaping what the traineeship will look like in future and to improve outreach to the next generation of librarians.
The meeting wraps up around 11AM, and I’m in need of a tea break. Once a week I let myself head upstairs to the Missing Bean Café for a proper coffee and a doughnut, but most days I stay in the EFL. We have a good kettle and an abundance of communal snack foods in our break area – today I opt for breakfast tea and a mini chocolate chip muffin. Small delights, eh?
11:20AM – Back to New Books
With most of my morning duties out of the way, I’m free to get back to prepping our new books. Next up they need tattle taping and then covering. Covering can take anywhere between a few minutes and the best part of an hour, depending on what needs doing. Hardbacks need nothing done to them. Hardbacks with paper sleeves need a plastic cover put over the paper sleeve. Paperbacks are the most time-consuming, requiring the application of sticky-black plastic across the entire cover – watch out for bubbles below the surface!
There is a brief caveat of an interruption during my new book processing – at 11:30, I need to do my daily reader count. This is a very high-tech and sophisticated operation, during which I walk around the entire library and try to count the number of readers using the space (arguably, with varying degrees of success). It grants me a few awkward looks from confused readers, but it’s nice to take a stroll around the library and bid a good morning to Mr Tolkien’s bust as I pass.
12 Noon – Lunch
No free lunches for Bodleian staff, sadly, but I have leftovers to keep me going. In the warmer months, I like to take the lengthy (2 minute) stroll to the Holywell Cemetery – a graveyard turned nature reserve with some lovely shady benches that are just perfect for sitting and reading. Sadly, I recorded my day on the 21st of February – when we’re under a yellow weather warning for wind – so I hide in the office and read at my desk instead. Today’s choice is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.
After lunch, it’s my turn on the enquires desk, where I’m kept company by Bill, our rubber duck. Despite the fact that the EFL is a loaning library, we have no (functional) self-service machines, so all books have to be checked in and out of the library manually. Readers may also come to us with all kinds of queries, but most common are “can you help me find this book?”, “how do I use the printers?” and “can I please use the TP room?” (I’ll explain this later). Interacting with readers is for the most part a delightful experience, and it’s lovely getting to know familiar faces and trying to make a good first impression on the new ones.
It’s very rare that I’m overrun with enquiries, so I can usually spend a little time doing computer-based tasks while on the desk. Today, I’m working on a New Books blog. I write these once a month, selecting 5 books that we’ve acquired in the last month and writing a little bit about each of them. It helps me to keep abreast of our collections and it’s fun picking out the most intriguing titles. Sometimes I’m even able to do them to a theme (like this one for Black History Month!) though this is heavily dependent on the relevance of recently acquired items to current events.
Our daily BSF Delivery is usually made somewhere between 2PM-3PM, so once I’ve been relieved of the enquiries desk, I take the lift down to collect it. Today’s delivery is 2 boxes, made up of a mix of Self-Collect items, new books, returns from ARACU (the Accessible Resources Acquisition and Creation Unit), and reservations for the issue desk (some low-use loanable EFL items are kept at the BSF, and can be ordered for borrowing). I start by sorting everything into piles, then quickly pass the new acquisitions to our Library Assistant in Charge of Collections.
Next I process the BSF books: I check them in on Aleph, add a green slip, and load them onto a trolley in order of their collection code. Once these are all sorted, they can be taken out to the reading room and added to the Self-Collect shelf. I usually give the shelf a little tidy at this point, as it can get quite messy with all the readers who use it. After this, I process the holds on the reservations, return all the ARACU books – and then take a big deep breath and decide it’s time for a tea break.
3:30PM – Tea Break
Another cup of tea! I try to resist taking another snack from the staff room. Sometimes I’m more successful than others…
I told you this was all about managing interruptions! The final stages are simple, add shelf marks to the spines, put label protectors over them so they don’t fall off, then sensitize the books. Then I can add the books to the EFL’s LibraryThing account. This allows anyone to see a list of what the EFL is acquiring. It’s a helpful addition to SOLO, as it allows you to see all the newer books in one place. We can also customise the listings through tags; if the reader were interested in, say, modernism, they could find a list of over 200 books on the subject.
Last but not least, the books can be marked as ‘New Books Display’ on Aleph/SOLO, then artfully arranged on our New Books Display – handily located right next to our door!
4:15 – TP Room
There is one more interruption in the midst of this new book processing (I did tell you I’d come back to explain this later!). A colleague comes in and says that a reader needs to be taken down to the TP Room.
TP Room stands for Turville-Petre Room (it’s also known as the Icelandic Room). It’s named after Gabriel Turville-Petre, once a Professor of Ancient Icelandic Literature and Antiquities at Oxford, who donated his private library to the English Faculty Library upon his death. The TP Room itself doesn’t house his collection, but instead holds our Icelandic materials, classic sagas, Norse mythologies, and modern periodicals on the same themes. The same name applying to a separate room and collection is, admittedly, sometimes a cause for confusion…
The TP Room is not actually housed within the library itself. To access it, readers have to collect a TP Card from the enquiries desk and head downstairs into the midst of the English Faculty itself. It’s a small space, but utterly delightful. Caged bookcases line every wall, and the room is decorated with photographs of Gabriel Turville-Petre, as well as antique card catalogues and pieces of volcanic rock. It is in almost constant use throughout the week. As staff, our job is simply to head down when requested, unlock the room, and open the cages so that readers can access the books.
4:30 – Reading Room Checks
I have one final task I need to complete for today, and that’s to run a report on the reading room. This is a simple procedure done through Aleph, which produces a list of all the BSF Self-Collect books currently loaned out to our reading room. During term time, this report typically ends up about 10 pages long. I print this out, dig out a clipboard, and head into the reading room to check that everything is where it’s supposed to be. If anything is amiss, I make a note of it on my list.
Usually, a reader is simply using the book at the time I make the check, so I perform secondary and tertiary checks on other days and times. However, it’s not uncommon for readers to muddle up their books and accidentally take home BSF books (which are meant to stay in the library at all times). If this ends up being the case, I send off some emails to the readers and get everything squared away.
5:00 – Homeward Bound
With my work done for the day I wash up my mug, straighten everything on my desk, and dig out my bus pass. My fellow trainee from Teddy Hall was very correct to say that Oxford is a city with so much to do. I’ll often stay to meet a friend for dinner, see a show at the New Theatre or the Playhouse, or meet other trainees for food or drinks – but tonight I’m actually headed out of the city. I have a very important D&D game to get to on Monday nights.