A Day in the Life of a Law Library Trainee

8:25      My journey to work begins with a, thankfully, short walk into work. This morning I am rather precariously carrying two cakes which I have made for a work party.


8:50      After making my way into work, my morning begins by unloading the dishwasher. We do this on a rota and this morning is my turn.  Alongside the dishwasher, I make the morning’s pot of coffee, which is very much needed. After that’s finished, I head up to my desk, where I sort through my emails and send off a few scans which I didn’t get round to yesterday afternoon.


Shelves for books to be labelled.

9:30      I take a few books that I have now finished with from my desk and head upstairs to reshelve them. Our lift is currently out of order so I am finding that I am climbing many, many more stairs than usual.

Returning to the workroom, I check to see if there any any books on the shelves I have responsibility for. Books for me are any ones which need processed, labelled or sent out to the floor. I collect any for me and bring them to my desk, where I work through them all. After finishing, I drop the books up to Academic Services for shelving, in a series of journeys which take much longer than normal (broken lift + manual handling training = frustratingly slow book moving process).


10:30     Tea party!! I head down to the staff room as we say goodbye to one of our colleagues, whose last day is today. We have some snacks, some cake and hand over a goodbye gift.


11:15        More scanning to do now. Accompanied by a list of all the requests, I gather up the books required and head to the scanning room. Our scanning room is a very small, out of the way room in the library, but it has a fantastic big window which looks out over the New College sports grounds. Unfortunately, today the scans are not as simple as I would like. A reader has requested a set of pages which don’t appear to make much sense, starting on the last page of one chapter and finishing mid subsection of the next chapter. I send a message to the Scan & Deliver triage team, who will confirm with the reader what exactly they want. Another scan is for a book which does not appear on the shelf. Thankfully, it has not travelled far, only to the shelf below. I decide to stay and tidy up these shelves while I’m here, as I’ve found a couple books in the wrong sequence. This is quite a satisfying task, but one that at least I, can only do for so long, before the dust generated from moving all the books makes me start sneezing uncontrollably.


12:45       I send off the completed scans and head downstairs to sort today’s post.

Today’s haul!

We receive a range of items in the post, mostly journals and purchased books, but sometimes mysteriously packaged parcels with donated books, sent by either the author or publisher. We also receive post for Official Papers, which may be Statutory Instruments or Acts published by the UK governments or documents from intergovernmental organisations, such as the United Nations. After collating and stamping any invoices and packing slips, all the post is brought up to the Information Resources Workroom where I sort it onto its respective shelves. Journals and books all have different shelves depending on whether they are purchased, donated or copyright material.


13:15         Lunchtime! I now have an hour for lunch, so I make myself up a bagel and have a cup of tea. I have a number of books on the go currently, as I read different books depending on what mood I’m in, but today I have only a few chapters left of Agatha Christie’s The Secret of Chimneys and I am determined to find out if I have guessed the murderer correctly. Tonight, I’m on the evening shift until 7pm, so I head outside for a short walk to stretch my legs and get some sunshine before heading back to work.


Official Papers post ready to be shelved.

14:15         It is now time to process the pile of Official Papers post which has been slowly building over the past couple of weeks. All the post has to be stamped with the correct date and type of stamp (C for copyright, P for purchased and D for donated), before being counted, noted down and shelved. It is a long process, but the upside is that there are some very interesting documents to read through. Today, I process 77 pamphlets and 8 Acts and Explanatory Notes.


16:00       I head downstairs for a break, grabbing a cup of coffee and the final one of my sister’s hot cross buns, which she had sent back with me when I visited home last weekend.


16:15         By now, the VBD books have arrived. The VBD stands for Virtual Book Display, and every week the Information Resources Librarian sends me over a spreadsheet with the picks for the Law Library. This week there are not too many, so only two runs up and down the stairs. Once at my desk, I have to check the books off on my spreadsheet, process them and send them to the copyright shelves for cataloguing. I also take this time to track down any missing VBD books from previous weeks, looking to see where they have got to.


16:45        I head down to Official Papers to grab some boxes of material to be barcoded and then head up to the desk for my 5pm evening shift. While on the desk, I answer queries from readers and give (hopefully useful and easy-to-follow) directions.

Home Office Research study from 1975 on homicide statistics.

When my attention is not required by readers, I work through barcoding the OP material. Currently I am working through series from the Home Office, which includes some very interesting reads, such as Absconding from Open Prisons and Homicide in Britain, 1967 – 1971. 


17:30        Time for the count. I grab the clipboard and head round the library to count the number of readers inside.


17:45         Mental maths done, I return to barcoding. When finished, I begin work on this blog post!


18:40         I ring the first bell to alert readers we will be closing soon. The bell is very loud and always makes unsuspecting readers jump (readers – I’m sorry!!).


18:50          Second bell.


19:00          The bell is rung for the final time to signify the library is closed. We switch the lights off and I drop my work to my desk before heading to the staffroom. Both cakes are finished and someone has kindly washed my plates, so I pack up them into my bag and head off to enjoy the rest of the sunshine!



Bonfire Night and the Development of a Tradition


5th November 1605. A day that would live on in a nation’s memory for centuries, encapsulated by a rhyme which few remember ever being taught:

Remember, remember the fifth of November. 

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

yellow flame
A modern Bonfire Night

Supposedly the nursery rhyme goes beyond these two sentences, however the passage of time has determined that only the first two are the most important.

For what is a rather macabre celebration, if you think too much into it, Bonfire Night is an incredibly fun night. Modern celebrations now revolve mostly around dramatic firework displays, at least this is the case in Oxford, but the bonfires remain. Over the years it has developed into one of Britain’s biggest commemorations, celebrated by children and adults equally.

We all know the story, how Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar, about to light the barrels of gunpowder, hoping to assassinate both King and Parliament. Following his arrest and the discovery of the plot, King James I (and VI) declared the 5th November to be a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate their escape from annihilation. And so, the tradition began. Guys in prams as children called ‘a penny for the guy’, homemade Guys placed onto bonfires to be lit, fireworks and sparklers.

5th November 1605, Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. 1 1547 – 1628, pp. 256 – 7, Official Papers, Bodleian Law Library.


Such events are a far cry from a locked shelf on the bottom floor of the Law Library, where the Journals of the House of Commons describe those hallowed events of November 4th/5th, 1605 [1].

It describes the arrest, as they discovered ‘One Johnson, Servant to Mr Thomas Percy’. John Johnson was the pseudonym which Guy Fawkes had picked (no relation to the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera held by the Bodleian Library, although we would encourage you check that out!) [2]. It was picked because it was British and commonplace – one look at the Wikipedia page for ‘John Johnson’ and you will see he chose rightly.  Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found underneath the House of Commons with the intention of blowing up the ‘King, and the whole Company, when they should there assemble’. The origins of ‘The Plot’.

The House of Commons Journals are not the only contemporary artefact of the Plot nearby, as on another Oxford ground floor, only 15 minutes away, the Ashmolean Museum holds the iron lantern supposedly carried by Guy Fawkes the night of his arrest [3]. The lantern was gifted to the University in 1641, by Robert Heywood, whose brother Peter was one of those who discovered Guy Fawkes in the undercroft and, as the story goes, took the lantern off him, preventing him from setting off the gunpowder.

It was not the first of such attempts by Catholic conspirators to assassinate the Protestant King James, but perhaps it was how close they were to success that led James to proclaim a day of Thanksgiving. A celebration of his escape from death, but a warning too, to any conspirators who may follow.

The events of the night of the 4th/5th of November 1605 and those of 21st century Bonfire Night are hard to reconcile. While reading the Journals of the House of Commons, one cannot help but muse on the development of tradition.

Title page, Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. 1 1547 – 1628, Official Papers, Bodleian Law Library.

What if you’d told Guy Fawkes in October 1605, that his own name, not his pseudonym, would become a part of everyday conversation? Or, that he was the namesake of one of Britain’s most enduring holidays? He would surely assume it was for entirely different reasons than we remember.

The concept now, of celebrating a failed assassination attempt with bonfires and fireworks, is albeit an odd idea, but one only has to ask around the Oxford colleges to learn how much odder traditions survive. Such traditions are captured moments in time, perhaps not of the authentic activities, but of how societies viewed themselves.  Libraries hold a fundamental role in the safeguarding of tradition and staring at the House of Commons Journals brings a reminder of the vital role of information preservation in our world. Bonfire Night is a fascinating snapshot of what our ancestors believed would be important for our generations to remember. One wonders, in another 400 years, in another library, what events from our day will be written on the pages of tradition.



The Official Papers Collection is housed on the ground floor of the Bodleian Law Library. 

Official Papers | Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk)



[1] 5th November 1605, Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. 1 1547 – 1623, pp. 256 – 7, Official Papers, Bodleian Law Library.

[2] About the John Johnson Collection | Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk)

[3] GUY FAWKES’ LANTERN | Ashmolean Museum

Lara Hatwell, Bodleian Law Library

Hello! I’m Lara, one of two trainees at the Law Library this year, alongside Wanne, who beat me to the punch with his introductory post!

Immediately before joining the trainee programme, I had just finished my undergraduate degree in Ancient and Modern History at Lincoln College  – so I haven’t travelled far! Despite this, I had never once set foot in the Law Library, and was pleasantly surprised with how it looked inside, as from the outside it looks rather square and imposing. As most young people who love books, I’d always entertained the idea of working in a library, but was unwilling to fully commit to taking another degree, without knowing whether library work was the right fit for me. While working in some other historic sights of Oxford, such as the Ashmolean Museum and Christ Church college, I saw the trainee programme and I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

The rolling stacks of Official Papers

The two Law Library trainees are split between Information Resources (me) and Academic Services (Wanne). This means I am much more involved with initial processing of books, and have spent much of my first month labelling, stamping and figuring out how to work the printer (the labels always print slightly slanted so this is a much harder task than it first may appear). Aside from this, a rather unexpected, but particularly enjoyable undertaking has been the sorting of official documents sent from the Irish Government. This is because the Law Library is also home to Official Papers, which houses British and Irish parliamentary papers and publications of other international organisations such as the United Nations. I am acquiring niche knowledge on various Bills and Acts (such as in 2021 the Irish Government banned the import of non-native honeybees – Bill No. 133 of 2021), which I hope will one day be put to use in a dramatic final round of a pub quiz.

Over the past week, the library has begun to grow much more alive, having been quite quiet when we first started. It’s been great to chat to all the new and returning students, although it really is challenging my knowledge of where everything is – I promise I do usually know, what I have yet to work out is how to give easy-to-follow directions. In the coming months, I’m looking forward to exploring all the different facets of academic librarianship and mastering the ground plan of the library!