8.40 (ish!) – 8.50 : Opening up
Most days I get to the library by 8.40am to start opening everything up. But as I get the train into Oxford (and even when not on strike, they’re not always the most punctual), it does vary quite a bit – it can be anywhere from 8.20am to 8.45am!
The first job of the day is to go around turning lights on, unlocking the computer room, and scooping up any books left on tables or trolleys for re-shelving. This is a nice job as the EFL is basically a circle, so there’s a satisfying ‘opening up’ loop starting and finishing at the office.
8.50 – 9.20 : Lapse list
With the library waking up, I make a start on the lapse list. This is the list of books from the Collections Storage Facility (CSF) which readers have finished with and are ready to be sent back. I check the list and pick the books off the self-collect shelf before we open the doors at 9am, just to make sure the books aren’t accidentally taken back into the reading room by eager readers! I then take the books into the office to scan and box them up in the blue totes we trainees talk so much about, and leave them downstairs ready for the van to collect this afternoon.
9.20 – 9.45 : Reading room shelf check
Once a week I also print a list of everything that’s supposed to be on the self-collect shelves and check everything is where it should be. As everyone starts ordering books for the start of term, it’s getting to be quite a long list! Fortunately, I’m yet to encounter a permanently-lost book, but there are a couple of reasons why a book that’s supposed to be on the shelf isn’t there. The most common reason is someone is using it in the library, which is why the first step in any book hunt is checking whether it’s magically come back after a couple of hours! Another possibility is that the book was sent back to the CSF without being scanned out properly, in which case it will be ‘found’ when it’s scanned by the offsite team. And although it’s rare, occasionally a reader will take home a book that’s meant to stay in the library. In these cases, a gentle email is all that’s needed to get the book returned safe and sound!
9.45 – 10.30 : Journals and periodicals
The next job for the morning is all things journals and periodicals. Although lots of journals are available online, we still get quite a few print journals delivered regularly to the library, and there are a couple of things I need to do.
The first job is to process any new journals that have arrived and get them out onto the shelves. Many titles trickle in slowly, published once a quarter or even once a year, but newspapers and reviews like Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books and New York Review of Books arrive weekly or fortnightly, so there’s always something new each week.
Processing new journals is a job I tend to do in batches, rather than as each arrives. There are a few waiting today, so I mark them as arrived on our spreadsheet and check them in on the Library Management System, Aleph. Then they’re stamped and stickered before I put them out on the new journals display. I swap the old ones for the newer arrivals and take the older ones to start their new lives on the main periodical shelves.
With the new journals dealt with, I go back to the spreadsheet and check whether we’ve received everything we’re expecting. Because of the pandemic many journals delayed their publication schedules and are still catching up, so knowing when to make a claim for a missing journal is more of an art than a science. There’s only one outstanding today, so I submit a claim to the publisher and mark the date on the spreadsheet.
The last journals job is to check if any titles have been used in the library. There’s a shelf in the office where journals that readers have used are placed before they’re re-shelved, and I use a spreadsheet to record which titles have been consulted. That way, when we’re looking for more shelf space, we can see which titles are popular and which ones perhaps aren’t used so much and could be stored offsite.
10.30 – 10.50 : Break time!
With the journals done, I put the kettle on and have a quick break. Usually I’d get my book out but one of my new year resolutions is to brush up my French, so I spend some quality time with Duolingo.
10.50 – 11.30 : Scanning (and a brief interruption)
Next up is scan requests. The Bodleian offers a ‘scan and deliver’ service through which readers can request one chapter or 5% of a book to be scanned and sent to them (the limits are set out in copyright law). Each library does it slightly differently, but at the EFL we’re each rota’d a couple of mornings or afternoons during the week to keep an eye on the scan requests, and this morning it’s my turn.
When a request comes in, I first check to make sure we can complete the scan – this means checking whether it’s allowed under copyright law and checking that the book is actually in the library! If everything’s ok then I collect the book off the shelf and have a quick flick through the requested chapter to make sure there aren’t any (or at least, not too many) scribblings and markings on it. Most of the time there aren’t any, but sometimes it looks like readers have written their entire essay in the margins! The book I’m scanning today thankfully doesn’t have any extra writing in it, so I take it to the PCAS (Print, Copy and Scan) machine to scan the chapter. With that done, it’s back to the computer for a little editing to make sure the scan is of a good quality, and then I send it off to the reader.
It depends a little on how long the chapter is, but usually it takes 20 or 30 minutes from opening a request to sending it to the reader. Today, however, I had a brief interruption as a reader wanted to use the Turville-Petre Room. Also known as the TP Room and/or the Icelandic Room, it’s not actually in the library itself but downstairs near the Faculty offices. To access it, readers hand in their card at the enquiry desk and receive a temporary access card in return. As this is the first time today that a reader has asked to use the room, I pop downstairs to unlock it for them before returning to the scanning.
11.30 : Count
I finish the scanning just in time to do a quick headcount of how many people are in the library. We do counts four times a day, to keep track of when our busiest periods are. The 11.30 count is always my job, so I get to have a walk around the library while trying to remember that readers find it a little off-putting if I count out loud!
11.35 – 12.30 : New books
Now on to one of my favourite jobs: processing the new books. Just like with the journals, I tend to wait until there are a handful to do in one go. There are four waiting today, so I make a start. Each book gets an EFL bookplate on the first page and a yellow sticker on the cover, as well as stamps inside and around the edge. Then I add tattle-tape – the magnetic strip that sits in the book’s spine and makes the loud beeping noise if someone forgets to check a book out before leaving (or, more often, if I forget to de-sensitise it!). With that done, each book gets a final sticker on the spine for the shelf mark. It sounds like a lot, but I quickly get into the rhythm of it and the books fly by!
The final job to make the books shelf-ready is to cover them. Paperbacks get sticky-back plastic, and hardcover dust jackets get little plastic pockets to sit in. But the easiest ones are the hardcovers without dust jackets – they just need a protective sticker over the shelf mark and they’re ready to go!
There’s a little more to do before the books go out on the shelf, but first it’s …
12.30 : Lunchtime
The EFL is in the St Cross Building, which is a bit further out from the shops than some of the other libraries (looking at you, Old Bod!). But that’s ok – I always like having a little walk at lunchtime. If I’ve remembered to bring a packed lunch, I’ll often stop at the church yard near the library to eat and, if the weather’s nice, I might stay a while to read a book. It’s a little chilly today though, so I pop in to Pret (I definitely get good value out of the coffee subscription) before heading back to the library.
13.30 – 14.00 : Delivery
While I was out, the delivery from the CSF (Collections Storage Facility) arrived, so I head down in the lift to pick it up. We usually get one or two totes delivered each day, with a range of different items in them:
- Bodleian books from offsite: these go out on the self-collect shelves for readers to pick up and use in the library.
- EFL books from offsite: to keep our shelves from getting too crowded, some of the EFL books that aren’t used very often are kept offsite. Readers can place requests, then pick them up from the hold shelf behind the enquiry desk.
- Transfers from other libraries: sometimes, if a reader places a request on a book from the offsite store while it’s being consulted at other libraries, it will be sent straight to the EFL rather than going back to the CSF first, so the reader gets their book quicker!
- Returns from ARACU: ARACU is the Accessible Resources Acquisition and Creation Unit, and they sometimes ask us to send them a book so they can make a high-quality, accessible scan for a reader with specific access needs. When they’ve finished, they send the book back to us in the delivery.
- New books: before they arrive at the EFL, new books are processed by the Acquisitions team then sent on to us with the delivery.
To help me keep track of which books need to go where, I start by sorting them into piles and work my way through them. It’s quite satisfying to get to the end of a stack of books!
14.00 to 14.40 : Shelving
With the delivery done, I’ve got time to do a spot of shelving. During term-time we have shelvers who help us keep on top of it, but as we’re still in the vacation we each do a bit when we’ve got time. It’s also a nice excuse to get up from behind the computer!
While the main goal of shelving is to get books back on the shelf (obviously!), I also take some time to tidy and straighten up the shelves and move books around if there isn’t quite enough space for them. If there are any real problem areas that would require moving a lot of books or that would need some planning, I make a note to pass on to my supervisor so we can dedicate some time to finding a bit more space for everything.
14.40 – 15.00 : Break
With all the books away, I have my second tea break. Now that I’ve satisfied the green language-learning owl for another day, I spend a happy 20 minutes reading my book.
15.00 – 17.00 : Desk shift
Last up today, I’ve got a desk shift. I spend two hours each day on the desk and, because there aren’t any self-issue machines at the EFL (I guess it’s something to do with the 1960s and their love of concrete!), there are usually quite a few loans and returns as well as other enquiries from readers. Today though, as it’s still just-about vacation rather than term time, the desk is quite quiet.
But there’s plenty to do during a quiet desk shift! I start by finishing up the new books I was processing earlier. Now that they’re all stickered, stamped and wrapped up in their cosy new jackets, all that’s left is to add them to the EFL’s LibraryThing. While all our books do of course appear on the main Oxford catalogue, SOLO, here at the EFL we also put our new books on LibraryThing so they can be found more easily. That done, everything’s ready to go out on the new books display!
I also have time to get on with some of the projects I’m working on. I’ve been going through reading lists and putting them online via ORLO (the imaginatively-named Oxford Reading Lists Online), so students can clearly see what they need to read for each class and where to find it in the library. This helps students, but going through the lists also helps the English Subject Librarian see where there might be gaps in our collection and which books we need to order.
I finish up the latest list I’ve been working on with half an hour of my shift left. That leaves just enough time to update the EFL’s Twitter to highlight our latest blog post, and finish writing up my day here!
At 4.45pm I ring the closing bell to let readers know they’ve got 15 minutes left and start tidying up the enquiry desk. There are always last-minute loans and returns but, as most readers have headed home already, I tidy desks and tuck in chairs while keeping an eye on the enquiry desk.
17:10 : Homeward
At 5pm I ring the closing bell again and the last few readers make their way out. I wash up my tea mug and collect my bag and coat. Most of us leave at the same time and walk together towards bus stops and the train station – it’s a nice sociable way to end the day!