The Sackler Library is a five-floor tall hub for multiple humanities subjects: archaeology and the ancient world, art and architectural history. It is also known as one of the principal research libraries within the Bodleian family. In other words, if you work here, there is always something to do!
Trainee life is incredibly varied – I attend weekly training sessions with my cohort, swap libraries with my fellow Taylorian counterpart, or work on my project with the library’s former Art & Architecture Librarian. However, for this ‘Day in the Life’, I will be documenting a more typical day at the library and the important tasks that keep it functioning.
8:45 – Arrival
I arrive at the Sackler Library after – very thankfully – a walk through Oxford in the sunshine! On my way in, I’ll check our book display table and make sure everything is neat and presentable. Once I’ve settled down at my desk, I will sign in on teams and check any emails which have come through. Generally, I will set some rough objectives for the day, and plan how to fit these in alongside my duties. Sometimes I’ll check in with my colleagues, which is the best way to start the day.
9:00 – Book processing and classifying
I first decide to look over some “problem books” set aside by my colleagues during processing. This normally means there is an issue with their ALEPH record (ALEPH is the library’s current cataloguing system: it contains information about the book’s contents and how it might be stored in a library). For example, occasionally these books will be missing a shelfmark, be allocated to an incorrect floor, or the physical book will be labelled differently to its online record.
At the Sackler, we have a range of shelfmarks; there are several in-house systems, as well as the more common Library of Congress Classification which marks most of our Art & Architecture books. Given this mix, it’s very important to double check books when they arrive here. Today I was looking at books with incorrect shelfmarks.
One fun thing about being the Sackler trainee is that I also get to work once a week at the Nizami Ganjavi Library (NGL), just down the road from the Sackler. Here, we’ve been working on a big reclassification project. My supervisor there has been kind enough to teach me how to either find, or manually work out, Library of Congress shelfmarks. This is something which – after six months of library work – brings me a lot of satisfaction and joy. It’s a bit like learning a new language or understanding a code. This means I can identify LCC shelfmarks, and add them to our Sackler books when they are missing!
Once I had updated the records on ALEPH to have the correct shelfmark, I then print new labels and write the new code inside. Some of the books are reader requests, so I’ll get in touch and let them know that they are ready for their consultation. The others are placed on a shelf, ready to go on our New Book Display every Monday. Here, readers can explore new titles in the Library, which they may not otherwise think of consulting.
9:30 – Lapse list
Next, I move on to the lapse list. These are BSF (offsite book storage facility) books with expired loans, so they need scanning through ALEPH (which also, handily, is our circulation system) and packed up in crates. The Sackler Library gets a lot of books from the BSF, probably because of the library’s size and how central it is. Often I’ll listen to a podcast whilst I work through this.
10:00 – Morning break
Break time! This morning I pop to the staff room and make a coffee. For me, its really important to take a break from my desk to give my mind space to focus on something different.
10:20 – Post
One of my trainee duties is looking at the library’s post. We get a range of things sent to us, from journals to donated books. Today I look at my favourite part, our donations: for example, books sent to us from Art Galleries which might be added to our collections.
Once I have unboxed them, I check if books are held at either the Sackler or Bodleian library, or we have a legal deposit copy. This can take some time as I often need to translate titles to get more information – and it’s easy to get engrossed looking at some of the art books’ beautiful images! Once I’ve looked at whether there are other copies of the book, I fill out a ‘donations flag’. These books then need to go to the relevant subject librarian, who will decide what to do with them next.
11:15 – Long office
Once I have filled out all the donation information, I take the post upstairs to the Sackler’s ‘long office’. This is where the subject librarian shelves are held. With the help of our little ladder (indeed, working in libraries is a fast cure for any fear of heights you might have), I place the books accordingly, and then pick up more post on my way down to look at over the next few days.
11:30 – Problem-solving
Once I have returned to my office desk, I meet with our senior library assistant to discuss what to do with donations which are less relevant to the Sackler’s subject areas. I email relevant libraries which the books may be of interest to, and write out a rough plan for the rest of the afternoon.
12:00 – Lunch
For lunch, I always go outside to stretch my legs. The Sackler is in the centre of Oxford, so I am never without beautiful walks and things to see. Sometimes, I’ll meet my friends for coffee – Saint Michael’s Street down the road is home to some of the best cafés, which is a bonus of the Sackler’s location!
13:00 – Journals
Whilst I wait for the afternoon’s delivery, I process new journals. As I mentioned, the Sackler holds a variety of subjects. This means we hold a lot of journals, which each need checking when they arrive. Like the books, I check ALEPH records , label those which are confined, and write the shelfmark on our special journal stickers.
13:30- BSF Delivery
The delivery arrives, stacked five crates high. This contains books from the Bodleian’s offsite storage facility, which readers can order to consult within the Sackler Library. Each book needs to be scanned through, and given a flag with the conditions of the loan on them. Given the size of the day’s delivery (a few inches shorter than your average library assistant), this takes some time. I pop on another podcast to have on in the background, and get to work. Once the books are scanned in, they go on our ‘self collect shelves’ for readers to find.
After this, I tidy up the workroom arrange new books to be processed for the following day.
14:40 – Afternoon break
Coffee time again before my desk shift for the rest of the day.
15:00 – Desk duty
At the Sackler Library issue desk, we circulate books and answer reader enquiries. Sometimes readers struggle to find books, have questions about their hold requests, or need their Bod card registering. For the first, I am always happy to help; the Sackler reading rooms are circular, which makes it trickier to navigate if you don’t know the library well. It definitely took me several weeks to get used to the set-up!
The Issue Desk is quieter at present, given that many readers have left Oxford for Easter break. I use my time to research books for future displays, create graphics for the Trainee twitter account, or process more journals. I like working on desk as it mixes tasks with reader interaction, providing a steady flow of library work for remaining afternoon.
5:00 – End of the day
Home time! I hand over the desk to the evening team and head out. Springtime is upon us, and walking through Oxford in the setting sun is the best way to unwind from work.
[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]