All posts by meekj

Michaelmas Reflections from the Law Bod

As I post this, there is a mere few hours left of Michaelmas term and it boggles the brain as to where the time has gone! Reading back on my first post from over two months ago has got me reflecting on how much I’ve learned since then and how comfortable I now feel in a building that has been slowly revealing its character to me. These dark, gloomy mornings must be making me emotional!

As I am based in the Information Resources team, my tasks this term have been mainly book processing, serials processing for the New Journal Display and reclassifying part of our collection. This is broken up with a several 2-hour shifts a week on the Enquiry Desk which have been great for interacting with our regular readers and learning about their area of research, as well as aiding newer readers in navigating our, often confusing, collection. I have only just gotten to grips with the layout of our ground-floor rolling stacks, and not embarrassed to admit I had to consult a map a few days ago while shelving after becoming baffled as to where the usual home was of an old, secondary collection Criminology text.

A rare sunny and quiet morning in the Law Bod. View into the main Reading Room from the Gallery.

My IR (Information Resources) work is varied and allows me the privilege of handling almost every book that comes through the library – be it through Legal Deposit, purchase or donation. Some days I’ll find myself 5 minutes into reading a book that I had intended only to skim through while stamping and tattling. Who knew law could be so interesting to an English Literature and Art History graduate?!

One of the more difficult, but very informative, tasks have been the reclassification of our Roman Law collection. My language experience has certainly come in useful as the texts are predominantly in German and Italian, but it is often hard to decipher the nuanced meanings between certain words when you are deciding on specific shelfmarks, as many words can be similar in language but mean very different things in a legal context. One language which would have been useful to be familiar with is Latin, but I decided against studying it on the belief that it would not help me while being a tourist… However, now that I am learning tonnes about Roman Law and its apparent influence on our own Common Law legal system, I can impress anyone while travelling with the Latin terms for various contracts and criminal activities, because I hear people love to talk about Stipulatio and Damnum Iniuria Datum on their holidays, yes?

‘Furtum’ is the Latin legal term for ‘theft’ in Roman Law …but of course you already knew that.

Speaking of summer holidays… the stormy, winter weather has brought the library alive with the howling of the wind circulating around the building and the thunder of the rain on the slanted roof windows. The noise is almost biblical when the rain is pouring and it still excites and awes me when it is in full force. I am really getting familiar with where the best seats are, which of our four floors is the least chilly and the quietest areas of the library, which is useful when suggesting places for readers to park up with their books for the next 8 hours. I have also aided a student in using our microfilm reader, which was a nice departure into the past from a standard query of how to search for legislation on an online database.

Best seat in the house. This nook can be found on our Gallery level, tucked between carrels with a lovely view.

Finally, our training sessions this term have been so interesting and varied, and extremely useful for day to day library work. Seeing the other trainees almost every week has been so great for catching up and reminds me that I’m not alone in being thrown into so many new experiences. I am so looking forward to heading back up north to Scotland for Christmas and Hogmanay, but I am also welcoming Hilary Term in the New Year and wondering what new challenges and opportunities it will bring. We still have a few weeks left until the Law Bod closes for Christmas, but Merry Christmas when it comes and lang may yer lum reek!

Jenna Meek, Bodleian Law Library

Me! In front of our exhibition celebrating 100 years of votes for women. Photographed by Hannah Chandler (Official Papers Librarian), @thelawbod

Hello! I’m Jenna, and I will be spending my traineeship in the Bodleian Law Library. I am originally from a town in central Scotland, and have spent the last 6 years in Glasgow where I completed my degree in English Literature and History of Art at the University of Glasgow. While I have not travelled the furthest for the traineeship, as we have a few trainees from mainland Europe doing placements with us, Oxford certainly feels like a far cry from Glasgow! Most notably, having only experienced a blend of a city and campus university in Glasgow, getting my head around the collegiate system in Oxford has been difficult. Something I am coming to realise is that Oxford likes to do things VERY differently in many respects!

I was so pleased and grateful to have been offered a place on the traineeship, but also slightly intimidated! I have no previous professional experience of working in a library, but became very familiar with my university library spending (literally) every day there during my final year. I do, however, have around 8 years of customer service and retail experience which I think will come in extremely useful when on the enquiry desk and interacting with such a varied pool of readers in a library as busy as the BLL. Secondly, it was advised that it would be preferable if the BLL trainee had a decent grasp of a few languages, which thankfully I do. This has come in very useful when completing one of my integral tasks of organizing the weekly New Journal Display which boasts many foreign language texts. However, it had not aided when trying to decide which page is the title page when processing a text written in Chinese characters!

While the BLL interior seems very new after having a refurbishment in the last few years, the building itself was built in 1959-1964. As Bryony has stated below, it shares the St. Cross Building with the EFL and the Law Faculty and creates a series of three interlocking cubes. It has a very different feel from many of the college libraries dotted around Oxford, though it has definitely been built for purpose, with four floors of space for the 550,000 texts the Law Bod holds which are mainly on open access. Designed by Sir Leslie Martin (1908-2000) and Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007), the blocky exterior is juxtaposed with the light and airy atrium in the main reading room. Jeffrey Hackney, who was a law student at Wadham College when the building opened, describes:

“My first reaction to the building was that it had been modelled on an Aztec temple and it was a constant source of pleasant surprise that there were no human sacrifices at the top of the steps. “

However, during the exam period, I imagine many students are in as much terror and as helpless as the sacrificial lamb! In actual fact, Ruth Bird, (Bodleian Law Librarian 2004 – 2017) advises that there is notable influence from Alvar Aalto’s Säynätsalo Hall, and the external brick cladding intended to blend with the stone of the adjacent Holywell manor and St Cross Church.

The BLL in 1964: Donat, John, Bodleian Law Library, St Cross Building, University of Oxford, Photoprint, 1964, RIBA Collections

Säynätsalo Hall: Accessed September 2018, https://museot.fi/searchmuseums/?museo_id=9147

One of the most interesting parts of my introductory weeks has been seeing the Official Papers holdings in rolling stacks on the ground floor. 2.5 linear kilometres of texts were moved from the basement of the Radcliffe Building to the Law Bod in 2009. Seeing reports and materials that have changed laws and the lives of people living in the UK has been a real treat and I’m hoping to do a blog post on some of the most interesting finds in the near future.

At the end of my third week, I have already learned SO much and I can’t wait to continue learning and gaining new skills from the extremely helpful teams housed in the BLL, as well as training alongside all the lovely trainees on the scheme. So far I’m not feeling the terror the sacrificial lamb, but I’ll get back to you on that once the mass of undergraduates start in a couple of weeks!

References:

Hackney, Jeffrey in Ed. Bird, Ruth, Celebrating 50 Years of the Bodleian Law Library 1964 – 2014, Witney, Oxfordshire: Windrush Group, 2014, p.5

Ibid., p.138

University of Oxford, The Faculty of Law, Accessed: September 2018, https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/about-us/about-faculty/st-cross-building