Hello! My name is Bethan and I am one of the two trainees based at the Reader Services in the old Bodleian this year. The Bodleian Library is the main humanities research library, and covers subjects including English, History, Theology, Philosophy, Patristics, and Classics. It is also the oldest in Europe, as it first opened to scholars in 1602.
An unusually quiet Old School’s Quadrangle
As trainees, we get to do a variety of tasks in all parts of the library. So far these have included:
The Main Enquiry Desk : This involves answering enquiries that come into the Reader Services via phone and email. These can range from straight-forward questions about how the library works, to requests to track down obscure books or journal articles. There is something very satisfactory when you are able to provide a useful answer for the enquirer, although occasionally it is best to simply forward the email on to a more informed department.
Delivery banksperson: Almost 12 million items in the Bodleian’s collection are held in the Book Storage Facility (BSF) in Swindon. As a result, boxes of books need to be transported daily. As banksperson, this task involves guiding the delivery van into the Quad, and attempting to prevent any preoccupied tourists from being run over (and probably ruining their pictures at the same time). We then transport the boxes to the appropriate reading rooms for the books to be processed and displayed at the collection points.
Upper/Lower Reading Rooms: As well as providing general help to readers (how to work the printer/connect to the Wi-Fi are common themes), this also comprises of shelving books and processing the incoming and outgoing deliveries. However, I would say my favourite part is going into the Duke Humfrey’s Library. This is the oldest and most impressive reading room in the library, as it dates back to the 15th Century. It was also used as the library in the Harry Potter films, so now I feel I can tell people that I essentially work at Hogwarts.
The Duke Humfrey’s Library in all its’ medieval glory
The Proscholium: This basically involves sitting at the front desk by the entrance. It is actually more enjoyable than it sounds because of the variety of enquires you get from both tourists and readers. As we are currently in the first term, you often find new students looking slightly lost and confused. This is understandable as the Bodleian is quite intimidating, so I think being friendly and helpful when they first arrive can make all the difference – and then they may even come back!
I have also had the opportunity to attend different talks and events – for example, I went to London with a few of the other trainees to attend the Internet Library International conference with NLPN. This was a great experience because we got to attend some really interesting panel discussions (although the free food was worth it alone). I have also been to a few events run by the Bodleian: ‘Library Conversations’ with Richard Ovenden (an open discussion with the senior staff about the Bodleian’s strategy and future developments); the ‘Digital Shift’ research meeting (a series of presentations about how the Bodleian can keep up with rapidly evolving technologies); and an interesting lecture and exhibition about Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have tried to go to as many different things as possible to make the most of my time here, and hope to continue to do so.
Overall I have really enjoyed working here so far, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds.