A Day in the Life (Old Bodleian Library)

As the trainee for the Old Bodleian, I am privileged with the unique experience of working in one of the biggest, and most well-known, academic libraries in Oxford. With so many collections held within one library, navigating this beautiful building can prove complex, but it definitely makes my role interesting!

A view of the entrance, featuring a statue of the Earl of Pembroke
The main entrance into the Old Bodleian Library

Working as part of a relatively small team in such a large library, I am typically based across multiple reading rooms within a single day, which allows me to complete a variety of different library tasks. This academic year, the Old Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera have started to merge duties (as we work within one complex), so a lot of roles are shared across the two libraries. To coordinate these responsibilities and work cohesively as a team, our work day is organised by a site wide rota, which I find hugely beneficial.

Today I am based solely in the Old Bodleian side of the building, but for insight into some of my duties in the Radcliffe Camera (namely work on the reception desk, circulation desk and scanning), take a look at this blog post from the History Faculty trainee: A Day in the Life (History Faculty Library) | Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees.

8:42 – Arrive and open up

I arrive at the Old Bodleian, lock my bike up and head in to start opening up my designated reading room. Everyone is responsible for preparing a specific room in the morning, which changes on a weekly basis. This morning I am opening up the Upper Reading Room, which involves opening the windows, switching on the computers and PCAS (Printing, Copying and Scanning) machine, spacing out the ladders evenly around the room, shelving material from the previous day and completing the lapse list.

3 piles of 4 blue book totes
Transit boxes filled and ready to be collected

The lapse list is an automated list of all the books due to be returned to their permanent location at the offsite storage facility. In the morning, we print off the list and then navigate the Self-Collect bays, collecting overdue items and piling them on to a trolley to be scanned. Once all the books have been collected, we scan them into Aleph (our internal circulation system), which removes the item from the reader’s account and marks the item as in transit.

We then send the trolleys of in transit books down in the lift to the delivery room, to be packaged into transit boxes by another member of staff.

9:00 – Main Enquiry Desk

As readers start to arrive, I am situated at the Main Enquiry Desk, in the Lower Reading Room. My role at this desk is to answer enquiries in person, by phone and via email. The Main Enquiry Desk is aptly named, as we receive all enquiries concerning the Bodleian Libraries, which can lead to some interesting and complex questions. Enquiries on the phone/by email can range from requesting guidance on how to gain admission to the library, suggestions of resources for purchase, issues with accessing SOLO and requests for help to navigate online databases, all the way through to tracking down obscure titles and ordering material in advance of a visit. It feels extremely satisfying to resolve an issue, though it is sometimes best to forward the email on to a more informed department, or ask a colleague for their opinion. In person, enquiries typically revolve around navigation (finding and ordering books, locating open shelf material, using the self-collect bays), or technical issues (resetting passwords, using PCAS machines, connecting to the WiFi).

The Main Enquiry Desk in the left hand corner, with a view of the reference shelves, computers and self collect bays
The Main Enquiry Desk in the Reference Room

Alongside answering enquiries, this morning I am scheduled to complete Library Triaging, which I can complete at my desk and is a crucial part of the Scan and Deliver service offered by the Bodleian Libraries. Scan requests are first sorted by a Central Triage team member, who checks that the request is within copyright and not available elsewhere, before sending the request through to the specific library that holds a copy of the book. The Library Triage team member (my role today) then checks to ensure that their library is able to fulfil the request, before sending the request into the scanning queue. Although this process sounds complicated, it allows requests to be streamlined and actioned as quickly as possible.


10:10 – Break

For my morning break, I typically head down to the Reader Common Room, where I can sit and read my book, or complete my Duolingo learning for the day!


Three shelves of books in the Interlibrary Loan cupboard
The Interlibrary Loan cupboard

10:30 – Main Enquiry Desk

En route back to the desk, I check the noticeboards in the stairways. I am responsible for keeping them up-to-date and organised, so once a week I make sure to remove old posters and add new notices, as required.

Back at the desk, I continue to respond to enquiries in the inbox, sort out Library Scan and Deliver requests and resolve reader issues. Today, we have a larger number of Interlibrary Loans than usual, so I spend some time organising the cupboard so that items are easy to locate. As these books are on loan to us from another academic institution, we take extra care to ensure that these materials are looked after, and that readers are aware of the restrictions associated with consulting these items.

When the desk is quieter, I am able to work on one of my background tasks. Today I am using some rare free time to work on updating the library directory, which allows us to contact relevant individuals and departments as required. It is important that this list is kept up to date, to reflect current departmental breakdowns.


The reception desk
The reception desk

12:00 – Proscholium

My last shift before lunch is on the North Proscholium. Essentially a fancy word for reception area, this task involves sitting at the front desk and greeting people as they enter the library. I always enjoy the opportunity to interact with readers, and this is often the stage where you find students looking slightly lost, so it is a good time to reassure them that the Bod isn’t quite as intimidating as it first seems!


13:00 – Lunch

Oxford city centre is an excellent location for lunch, with a multitude of cafes and tea shops to peruse. Typically, I will bring my own lunch and find a pretty spot to sit in (slightly challenging during the winter months when it is tempting to stay inside), however once a week, the History Faculty trainee and I meet up to try out one of the cafes that we have spotted. A favourite haunt is the Covered Market, conveniently located and sporting a variety of delicious cuisines.


14:00 – Book Delivery

Delivery van parked in the Old School Quad, pulled up to the delivery bay
Delivery van parked in the Old School Quad

In the afternoon, the book delivery van arrives from the BSF, bringing all of the requested items from offsite storage. In order to prepare for its arrival, I pick up the gate key from security and head to the delivery room to put on my hi-vis jacket. After finding my colleague, we head onto Catte Street to meet the delivery van and lead them into Radcliffe Square. We unload and reload the books for the Radcliffe Camera first, before returning to the Old Bodleian to guide the van into the Old School Quad (making sure to avoid the tourists)! The Old Bodleian receives about 65% of the books ordered from the BSF (Book Storage Facility), so we are kept very busy, with between ten and twenty boxes of books to process per delivery. Once all the books have been scanned into Aleph and assigned to the reader, we organise the books alphabetically on the trolley and send them up in the lift to be placed on the Self-Collect bays, ready for the readers to consult.


15:10 – Break

I typically take my afternoon break back in the common room, or if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, a trip over to Blackwell’s to browse the latest additions (the staff discount doesn’t hurt)!

A view down the length of the Upper Reading Room, including the shelves, desks, computers and beautiful pink ceiling
Upper Reading Room


15:30 – URR and off desk tasks

To end the afternoon, I am based back in the Upper Reading Room. As well as providing general help to readers, typical tasks carried out in this space include processing new books and periodicals, carrying out stock checks, supporting readers with tech/PCAS issues, the provision of equipment, and helping with the navigation of collections. When I am not scheduled for anything specific, I tend to use this time to complete my own library projects. As it is not too busy today, and my colleagues are happy for me to remove myself from the Reading Room, I head down to the Lower Gladstone Link, to spend time relabelling the high demand collection, which I find extremely therapeutic after a busy day.


17:00 – Finish up and head home

My work day finishes at 5pm, but there is no need for a closing routine as the Old Bodleian Library is open till 9pm, so I hand off to the evening team and get ready to head home … or to meet the trainees for some much-needed ice cream!

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