A Week in the Life of a Trainee at the Oxford Union 

A view of the Oxford Union from outside.

My working week starts at 09:30 on a Monday morning. This is glorious as my fellow trainees have to start at 09:00 or earlier, mwah ha ha ha.  

Coming in early often means I open the library: unlocking, turning on the lights and emptying the dehumidifiers (and, after 6 months, I still haven’t mastered the art of pouring the water from our leaky dehumidifier without spills).   

Having opened up, I am often on shift at the reception desk (I have one shift a day). This means that I get to meet lots of lovely people – some members, some not.   

There are six staff members in the library: the Librarian-in-Charge, the Deputy Librarian, the Assistant Librarian, me (the Trainee), the Archivist, and Helga (the library printer, who works very hard). The Union has more than just library staff, but the team is still very small and you get to know everyone; the Bar staff even know my lunch order before I say it (despite me definitely not having a coronation chicken sandwich almost every day for the past six months).  

Mondays are fantastic; I take minutes at our Library Committee meetings. These are chaired by the Librarian, who is a student. They decide which books will be withdrawn and which will be purchased. Our Library’s collection is thus entirely dictated by the needs and wants of members and booklists are often a little peculiar as a result.  

On Tuesdays my cup runneth over; I come in late (for the evening shift, not because I have given up on punctuality by Tuesday), and do research for our displays, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This also tends to be the day on which I do the most research for my project (which will eventually be posted on the library website).  

Wednesdays are usually training days for all Trainee Librarians – here you’ll learn to use ALMA, learn the nitty gritty elements of librarianship and visit other libraries (inside and outside Oxford).  

Thursdays at the Union are great; this is ‘Brew and Biscuits’ day, on which all staff, and sometimes student officers (President, Librarian and Treasurer), meet for an hour, first for business, and then a social chat (usually about rugby, at which point anyone who doesn’t watch it is bored rigid). The possession of a brew (tea, coffee, or hot chocolate) and the consumption of at least one biscuit is rigorously enforced (on pain of death). This is also the day when I leave early to go bouldering.  

Fridays are more relaxed, there are no minutes to write, no training to do (usually), and no threat of death for not partaking of the cookies. This is a day when reshelving and book processing are the priority and social media posts get scheduled.   

The blog post continues into Saturday! Fear not! At most you’ll only do two Saturdays a term, and you have a late start. Shock horror though… there are no free bar lunches. And on that cliff-hanger, I will leave you.  

The Extraordinary Life and Overlooked Death of C. S. Lewis   

 

A row of books is visible. The front book reads: "The Magician's Nephew : By C. S. Lewis". The front cover shows a brown, winged horse with two children on its back – a boy in brown clothes and a blonde girl in a blue dress – flying over a mountainous valley.
The Oxford Union C.S. Lewis book display

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, therefore it seemed fitting to write a little about the man who is held so dear by the city of Oxford.

C. S. Lewis attended University College,[1] Oxford, and was a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings books. Both writers were members of the Oxford Union Society, or “Ugger” as it was called by many a student at the time.[2] Lewis often met with friends in the Union Library and this group of literature enthusiasts became known as ‘the Inklings’. They discussed various writings and, in true Oxford University style, went drinking at the Eagle and Child.[3]

Although C. S. Lewis was himself an extraordinary man and renowned for his stories, most famously his Narnia series, his death went almost unnoticed. “Never!” I hear you cry. How could such a famous man’s passing be so trivial to the world? The answer, sadly, is that Lewis died (at the age of 64) on the 22nd of November 1963 – the same day that American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.[4]

A row of books is visible. The front book reads: "The Last : By C. S. Lewis". The front cover shows a range of animals, prominently a bear, badger and satyr, battling armoured people.
The other end of the Oxford Union C.S. Lewis book display in case you had a burning desire to see it.

If the extraordinary life of C. S. Lewis has interested you, perhaps it has also rekindled a desire to read his literature; a collection of non-fiction works by, and about, C. S. Lewis is available for loan across the Bodleian Libraries and associated colleges. Additionally, Lewis’ works of fiction are available for loan from the Oxford Union Society Library. Alternatively, for a wander through nature you may like to visit the CS Lewis Nature Reserve, in Risinghurst, which was once owned by the man himself.[5]

Bibliography: 

[1] C. S. Lewis. 1955. Surprised by Joy : The Shape of my Early Life. p.186

[2] Humphrey Carpenter. 1977. J.R.R. Tolkien : a biography. p.54.

[3] Humphrey Carpenter. 1978. The Inklings : C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends. p.122

[4] Simon Usborne. 2013. ‘Eclipsed in death: We remember JFK, but what about Aldous Huxley, or CS Lewis?’. Independenthttps://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/eclipsed-in-death-we-remember-jfk-but-what-about-aldous-huxley-or-cs-lewis-8957192.html

[5] Berkshire Buckinghamshire & Oxford Wildlife Trust. N.d. CS Lewis Nature Reserve. https://www.bbowt.org.uk/nature-reserves/cs-lewis-nature-reserve

Connie Hubbard, Oxford Union Society

Me, looking awkward and librariany.

Hello! I’m Connie, the trainee for The Oxford Union Society. I graduated with a BA in Classical Studies from Reading University in July 2023. Throughout my final years of university I worked in my local public library, first as a volunteer, then as a Saturday assistant.

I love working for the Union, although it is not what you might call a normal library, though there are some aspects which are standard: our library, like the Bodleian, has many smaller libraries within it – the Old Library, the Poetry Room, the Goodman, the Gladstone Room and the President’s Office. We classify our books by the Dewey Decimal system or versions thereof. This is, however, where normality ends. The Library Committee, a group of all-powerful students, decide which books we will buy and which we will remove. We have fiction books for those who want to read for pleasure and famous Pre-Raphaelite murals in the Old Library which illustrate the story of King Arthur, from adolescence to death, in ten hard-to-see paintings. These faded because the artists, which included Dante Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, did not prepare the wall first. Honestly! Didn’t they know what they were doing? The answer is no, definitely not – they were in their 20s (except Rossetti) and were paid in “tonic” (really gin). Meaning a group of young men were up ladders, possibly drunk, on the very narrow and rather high gallery (yet it is out of bounds today for health and safety reasons). On my first day the kitchen was being refurbished and, on taking up the floor, a ‘mysterious void’ was found with only a chair at the bottom. What the pit is, no one yet knows, although my co-worker insists that it is an oubliette. Unfortunately, we do not know if the chair had straps.

The Union has been described by Harold MacMillan as “the last bastion of free speech” and the variety of people who speak in debates is testimony to this. In fact, in my third week at the Union, the Prime Minster of Pakistan came to visit so we had security and police officers crawling around the building. The Union has also invited celebrities including Jack Gleeson, Michael Gambon and Stephen Fry as well as controversial figures such as Jordan Peterson, Ricky Gervais, and Katie Hopkins. In fact, in the no-platforming debate of 2019, the Society voted by vast majority not to support no-platforming.