Working from home for the foreseeable future, locked-down librarians are wistfully recalling the rustling of pages, the gentle bustle of readers, and that unmistakable eau de bibliothèque. Whilst the Bodleian is working hard at ‘keeping the University reading‘, and we’re all getting used to Teams and Zoom, a VPN’s no substitute for being among the books. So, while we’re all yearning for more library in our lives, what better time to revisit our 2019 trip to the Bodleian Storage Facility — which holds more books than anyone can imagine.
Some quick facts:
The BSF opened in 2010, with an initial capacity of 8.4 million items
It sits on a 17-acre site just outside of Swindon
The BSF replaced the New Bodleian (now the Weston Library) as the main storage site
Following reconfiguration, the BSF now holds over 12 million items
A book delivery service to departmental libraries operates twice a day on weekdays
In October 2015, the BSF fulfilled its one millionth book request
The Grand Tour
Our visit began with a talk by Boyd Rodger, the (then) Logistics Manager of the BSF. Boyd gave us a run-down of the BSF and the book delivery service. The BSF differs from a library in a few important ways. Items at the BSF are organised only by size, which should scandalise any librarian. You won’t find any readers here, either, and you can’t browse the BSF’s shelves in any conventional sense — but you can order any book from the BSF to arrive the following weekday, or that afternoon if you got your order in before 10am. Every item is barcoded, so requests placed via SOLO are logged by the BSF’s computer system, which tells staff where to find books and the optimal order in which to pick them. Once gathered, requests are boxed in the processing area and loaded onto vans for delivery. At their destination libraries, deliveries are scanned in and returns loaded back onto the van. Efficiency is key, because book delivery is a vital part of Reader Services at the Bodleian Library. Boyd told us that e-books aren’t threatening to close libraries — in fact, the Bodleian is buying more physical books than ever.
So how do you store 12.5 million books — and not only books, but maps, manuscripts, microfilms, periodicals and newspapers too? By 2009, the New Bodleian (which had 11 floors of space) as well as facilities at Nuneham Courtenay and a salt mine in Cheshire (yes, really) were at capacity. Costing approximately £25 million, and involving the biggest book-move in the Bodleian’s history (6.5 million items!), the BSF needed some serious storage. As we entered the main warehouse, it became clear that they really pulled it off.
The BSF is huge. Its shelves are 11 metres high and over 70 metres long. Before the automatic lights kick in, the narrow aisles seem to converge into darkness. We wore high-visibility jackets to alert staff driving the book-retrieval vehicles to our presence. A cross between a cherry-picker and a forklift, these vehicles are configured to fit exactly between the shelves, allowing staff to retrieve an impressive average of one book per minute. Although I personally wouldn’t like to be 11 metres up in the air, Boyd assured us it’s a very safe operation!
During downtime, staff at the BSF conduct stock-takes and look for ways to consolidate and optimise the available space. For us trainees, Boyd’s most important lesson was that future-ready libraries must be logistically and spatially adaptable:
Low-use books kept in storage might suddenly become grow in demand and require relocation ‘on-site’, or vice-versa;
Renovation or building work might require temporary storage (in fact, the BSF currently holds several thousand volumes from Cambridge), so could your facility accommodate for that?
Existing space can always be reconfigured to meet new challenges and needs;
Since an off-site facility means books always moving around, could it also offer research facilities? Some libraries are considering specialised reading rooms to avoid transit for fragile or valuable material.
Perhaps most importantly, as the current crisis forces libraries everywhere to re-imagine services, the BSF’s dual role in storage and logistics brings it to the fore of the Bodleian Libraries’ updated Scan & Deliver service. Pre-lockdown, photocopies of material in storage were useful for scholars who could not visit a library; in our cautious post-lockdown world, it’s clear that the ability to provide resources remotely will be vital.
All of this is a far cry from what the librarians of yore imagined. As a trainee at the Weston Library, I was aware of the building’s history as the old stack, and of the early-century conveyor belt that famously transported books underneath Broad Street to the Old Bodleian. I wondered how books were kept before it was built, and the archives obliged…
A Brief History of Space
In 1908, the incumbent Bodley’s Librarian, E. W. B. Nicholson, made a public plea to save the Proscholium from a grim fate as a glorified bike shed. The idea is barely conceivable to us now: the Proscholium, refurbished in 2009, has become a central hub for students and tourists alike. But in Nicholson’s day the Library was short on space, and every available nook was in danger of being turned into storage. The acquisition of the entire Old Bodleian quadrangle by 1859 (which had, according to Thomas Bodley’s vision, housed examination and teaching rooms) and the Radcliffe Camera in 1860 couldn’t match the rapid growth of the collections. In 1909, work began on the Underground Bookstore beneath the Radcliffe Camera (which now houses the Gladstone Link), the Library’s first purpose-built storage solution. At the time, it was the largest bookstore of its kind in the world. The Oxford Chronicle for 29th November 1912 recorded the opening speech of Nicholson’s successor, Falconer Madan, who even at that moment was conceptualising more storage:
‘Then will be the time for the engineers to set to work burrowing on the other side of the Camera, so that another quarter of a century’s growth may be provided for by a second subterranean chamber’.
The prophetic Madan foresaw that ‘within fifty years every college and institution will have a receptacle for its stores beneath its front quadrangle’ — in recent years, St John’s, Magdalen, and the Queen’s College have all completed very similar projects. What’s also interesting about Madan’s speech is the admission that even the Bookstore represented borrowed time. Sure enough, within that quarter of a century, designs were drawn up for another new storage facility that would provide some respite for the Bodleian’s beleaguered librarians and cataloguers. Giles Gilbert Scott’s design for the New Bodleian won him the contract, but here are a few proposals from the archives that didn’t make the cut:
One particularly dreadful design would have seen the Old Bodleian’s Quadrangle roofed over and the resulting central compartment turned into stacks. Although in concept this isn’t too far removed from the New Bodleian, I’m sure we’re all glad it was rejected…!
In 1602, Thomas Bodley could not ‘rest as yet satisfied’ with the small number of books in his new Library, but predicted correctly that an influx of donations could only influence more. Centuries on, and the Bodleian has benefited from enormous donations, greatly increased buying power, and the strengthening of its historical legal deposit. It’s anticipated that the Bodleian Storage Facility will get an extension within the near future, as more and more items pour in. A modern history of the Bodleian, then, is one of exponential growth — 220,000 printed books in 1849; one million books in 1914; some 12 million today — and a far cry from the modest 2,500 tomes that once comprised Duke Humfrey’s Library.
We are currently six months into our trainee year (where has the time gone?!). Every one of us is enjoying the experience so far and are even *gasp* starting to consider our careers after this year. When discussing how our work is going at our individual libraries, we have begun to realise that each library is different in its environment and history. Therefore, no two trainee experiences are going to be alike. To illustrate this best, we decided to collaborate together on a (longer than usual) post to showcase the most interesting finds or objects in our libraries. These range from interesting books to some quite unusual artefacts on display. So quickly grab your chosen beverage and get cosy as you go on the unseen tour of Oxford’s libraries!
Upon first glance, Arch.8°.F.1495 looks much like the rest of the rare books alongside which it sits at the Taylorian. Its green Moroccan binding is so dark it appears nearly black, lending its exterior a non-descript quality that reveals very little about its fascinating contents. Surprisingly, this unassuming volume contains two important incunables, Guielmi Castelli’s Due Elegie and Augustine of Hippo’s Confessiones.
I began exploring this volume’s history by researching its maker. A binder’s mark pasted over the vibrant orange endpaper in the upper right corner of the book’s inside front cover states it was bound by “J. Faulkner of 8 Queen Street, Little Tower Hill.” In a London street directory from August of 1817, I discovered a listing for a J. Faulkner at 8 Queen Street, while Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide from May of 1818 lists a “John Faulkner, bookbinder” at that same address. Thanks to an entry in the Glasgow Incunabla Project, I confirmed that Faulker’s bookbinding shop was in business from 1809 to 1833. It seems clear, then, that Arch.8°.F.1495 was bound during this period.
It is possible, though not certain, that the volume’s disparate works were brought together for the first time then in this 19th century context. The Confessions is the much better known of the two works it contains, not solely because of the controversy it caused in the 4th century when Augustine rejected paganism in favour of the rapidly spreading Christianity, but also because of his role in shaping Christian tenets of faith for centuries thereafter. During the Renaissance, amid a revival of interest in the classical “greats,” figures like Augustine were venerated and texts like the Confessions were spread throughout Europe with the aid of the newly invented printing press. The Elegies and its author are, by contrast, much less famous. Castelli, also known as Guillaume Castel, was a French poet and clergyman who lived and worked in Tours from 1458 to 1520, and his Latin text does not appear to be well known. I can only speculate about how two such different texts came to be bound together by Faulkner in London over 300 years later. It’s possible that they were joined when they were printed in the early Renaissance since they share a consistent gothic type, but a shift in the rubrication and the paper quality suggests that they were not previously bound as one. Perhaps Faulkner believed there was money to be made from a volume that combined Augustine and Castelli’s works, but more likely he had a patron who saw an educational value in combining them.
The first clue to the identity of this patron can be found, ironically, at the back of the book, in the form of a donation plate for the Fry Collection. In 1955, the daughters of Joseph Forrest Fry and Susanna Fry donated their family’s collection to numerous libraries across Oxford University. Arch.8°.F.1495 was among those that arrived at the Taylorian. Two family crests on the inside of the front cover of the volume offer further clues about the book’s provenance. The bookplate pasted in the centre of the inner cover identifies the book as having belonged to the personal library of William Horatio Crawford, a collection he would have inherited along with his family estate in the mid 19th century. After researching the Crawford family history, I ascertained that the book must have joined the collection prior to William’s death in 1888. An 1891 newspaper clipping which reads like an advertisement for those interested in purchasing incunables is attached a few pages into the book and is almost certainly a record of sorts for the sale of the Crawford collection. The second crest, that of the Inglis family, may have been attached at this point, indicating that they purchased the book in 1891. Alternatively, it may have been attached much earlier, in which case someone in the Inglis family may have been the patron at whose behest Faulkner bound the Elegies and Confessions together sometime between 1809 and 1833. Given that in 1788 a Dr. Charles Inglis founded my high school, King’s-Edgehill in Windsor, Nova Scotia, I was surprised to stumble across this possible (albeit tenuous) Canadian connection, and I plan to delve further into the relationship between Arch.8°.F.1495 and the Inglis family.
Battershall, Fletcher. Bookbinding for Bibliophiles: Being Notes on Some Technical Features of the Well Bound Book for the Connoisseurs. Greenwich: The Literary Collector Press, 1905.
Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide. London, 1818.
Hughes, Jill. “The Taylor Institution Library.” In David Paisey (ed.): German studies: British resources. Papers presented at a colloquium at the British Library 25-27 September 1985. London 1986, pp. 196-204.
Marks, P.J.M. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
Pearson, David. English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2005.
Saint Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Sotheby’s: Six Centuries of Book Binding. London: Sotheby’s, 2002.
Street directory of London. London, 1817.
Washbourne, Henry. The Book of Family Crests. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, 1840.
Zaehnsdorf, Joseph William. The Art of Bookbinding: a practical treatise, with plates and diagrams. London: George Bell & Sons, 1890.
Jaron Lanier, Who Owns The Future?: Tom Vickers (Sainsbury Business School Library)
Honestly – I picked this off the shelf for its cover. For such a provocative title (evoking the mega-corps of cyberpunk dystopias that lurk in every popular sci-fi rendering of what’s to come) it’s a calming, quite beautiful image. It even ends up being resonant to Lanier’s argument too – a graceful representation of a collective of individuals, and of iteration, algorithmic or otherwise. There’s two pieces of media calling themselves ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’. One is the original 1967 poem by counterculture grandee Richard Brautigan and the other is a 2011 documentary by another Richard, this time Curtis that bleakly shreds the utopian visions of the 60s. This book reminds me of both, and I suspect its author knows and thinks well of both as well. It also has the crucial quality of a book about the future of having been right so far – about fake news, the erosion of democracy, and a whole host of contemporary horrors. Somehow, while reading it, I’m not as depressed about that as I perhaps should be. Lanier has a wry sense of humour about reality which you get the feeling is as much a product of his perceptiveness as the book insights, insights which Lanier makes disarmingly often in a much wider variety of topics than the stated subject fields of technology and economics. He’s honest, personal, and explains things well, and so the book is and does these things too. I have a close friend I’ve known since university who has unnervingly high scores in an Economics & Economic History degree and a subsequent career advising governments on long-term investments, and talking points in here helped me start really picking up what he’s been putting down for years in half a dozen areas of conversation. I may well buy him a copy for his 30th.
Amelia B. Edwards: Erin McNulty (Sackler Library)
While researching for a book display that I was putting together to celebrate LGBT+ History Month at the Sackler Library, I came upon the work of Amelia B. Edwards. Edwards, born in 1831, was an English novelist, journal, and traveller, who contributed greatly to the field of Egyptology, co-founding the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. She was also the founder of the Edwards Chair of Egyptology at University College London. Edwards died in 1892 from influenza, and was buried alongside her partner, Ellen Drew Braysher. In 1877, she published a best-selling travelogue that she had written about her journeys in Egypt, titled A Thousand Miles up the Nile.
I discovered that an 1877 edition of this work was stored in the Sackler’s Rare Book Room, where we house some of our special collections. The book contains illustrations by Edwards of various sites that she visited during her time in Egypt, and its cover is beautifully decorated. The work even has a dedicatory message and signature from the author written inside! Some pictures of the book are included below:
Unfortunately, I was not able to display this older edition, but a newer edition was also available. However, anyone with a valid University or Bodleian card can view our Special Collections materials, such as the above work by Edwards, on request; just ask at the Issue Desk. Also, feel free to come along and have a look at our LGBT+ History Month display, or visit the Sackler blog for more details: http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/sackler/ .
The Elizabethan Zoo: Emma Jambor (English Faculty Library)
One of my favourite books from the English Faculty Library is The Elizabethan Zoo (edited by M. St. Clare Byrne, published in 1926) from our Rare Book Room. The book describes a variety of normal and fantastical beasts, from the authentic rhino to the extraordinary Hydra and Mantichora. The sources for the text and illustrations come from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Topsell’s The History of Four-footed Beasts (1607) and The History of Serpents (1608). I particularly love the fantastical and frightening illustrations.
Tiny Books!: Evie Brown (Bodleian Library)
My interesting find in the Bodleian collections was a very ordinary transit box…full of tiny children’s books! I love to collect early additions of children’s books – there is something about the illustrations which never fails to bring a smile to my face – so this was an exciting discovery for me. Many of the books in the collection are by Ernest Aris, an early 20th century author and illustrator with an impressive CV of 170 titles to his name.
Aris’ books are beautifully illustrated, with bright and personable characters and it definitely makes a change to the traditional dusty classics and theology books held in the Bodleian!
As well as Aris’ collection of books, the box also contains some re-written classics – The Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe and Alice in Wonderland to name but a few – by Kathleen Fitzgerald. These are interesting as they are bound in suede with gold lettering – beautiful but makes for some grubby fingers!
The final piece I wanted to share was a beautiful book, with a cardboard cover and no binding – the pages are simply held together with string. I love the illustrations, and the tiny matchbox sized box that the book came in. I have included a picture of the book next to my Bodleian reader card to give some perspective – it really is tiny! This book is definitely my favourite as it reminds me a little of the type of things I used to love to make when I was a child, and you can’t help but smile when you see it!
I hope you enjoyed my little interesting find; it’s definitely something a bit different!
Wonders of the Stereoscope – John Jones (London: Roxby Press Productions, 1976): Rhiannon Hartwell (Bodleian Library)
Can you ever be sure you’re seeing the same thing as someone else? How do you teach another person to see what you see?
In addition to providing ample entertainment to Reading Room staff at the Old Bod, Wonders of the Stereoscope has raised a lot of interesting questions about perception and vision!So, what is a stereoscope, exactly? Stereoscopy was developed in the mid-19th century; two images, called ‘stereographs’ are developed side-by-side, showing the left- and right-eye views of a single image. When viewed through a specially-designed stereoscope lens, at the right distance and with relaxed, unfocused vision, the near-identical images should overlap until one, three-dimensional image appears.
According to Brian May (yes, that Brian May, of the band Queen), who formed the London Stereoscopic Company in the early 2000s as a result of his lifelong experimentation with stereoscopy, such images can also be ‘free-viewed’ without the use of lenses – though success with this method has been limited at the Old Bod!
Wonders of the Stereoscope is my favourite item I’ve seen come through the Old Bodleian reading rooms because of the sheer joy it provokes in the reading room team, as everyone shares in the camaraderie of learning a bizarre and intriguing new skill. The images provided by Wonders of the Stereoscope certainly don’t hurt, either – from Charles Blondin perilously balanced on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls, to a walrus in trousers kissing a man on the lips, the often hilarious variety of images provided endless amusement even before they were seen in 3-D!
Thomas Hearne, Remarks and Collections: Harriet David (History Faculty Library)
Tucked down in the local history section in the Lower Gladstone Link (the lowest level of the Bodleian, so close to the water table that it has a pump lurking discreetly in one corner) are the eleven volumes of Thomas Hearne’s Remarks and Collections, published between 1885 and 1921 by the Oxford Historical Society.
Thomas Hearne (bap. 1678, d. 1735) was an antiquary, librarian, and indefatigable gatherer-up of old books, remarkable tales, and Oxford gossip – Hearne matriculated from St Edmund Hall in 1695, and rose rapidly through the academic ranks. His Remarks and Collections are one of the great eighteenth-century diaries, a daily record of Hearne’s life, scholarly discoveries, and political vituperations spanning the years from 1705 to 1735. During this time, Hearn rose to become Second Librarian of the Bodleian, in 1712, and by 1715 had been appointed to the splendidly-named University posts of Architypographer of the Press (responsible for maintaining the standards of the University Press, then lodged in the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre) and Superior Beadle of Civil Law. A glowing future within the Bodleian seemed assured.
Later that same year, however, Hearne was to be ousted from all these posts. So ‘inraged’ was John Hudson, then Bodley’s Librarian, that Hearne records ‘he had the Lock & Key of the Library Door altered on purpose to exclude me from going in and out when I pleased, my own Key being now perfectly useless’ (Remarks and Collections, vol. V, pp. 137-8). Hearne didn’t just get himself fired from the Bodleian – his boss literally changed the locks to keep him out.
This dramatic fall from grace was the result of awkward political and social affiliations. Hearne was a committed and vocal nonjuror (he refused – except on his initial entry to the University – to swear the required oath of loyalty to William and Mary) and Jacobite. Even in the distinctly conservative atmosphere of early eighteenth-century Oxford, his outspoken loyalty to the Stuarts was an embarrassment for the University, which took measures – however inelegant – to protect itself. Hearne’s account of his dismissal, which involves him taking care to read out John Hudson’s ‘false spellings’ (‘Upder Library Keeper’) verbatim, throwing the Vice-Chancellor into a ‘Passion’ (Remarks, vol. V, p. 181), does not show Enlightenment Oxford at its most dignified.
Hearne endured, however. Denied access to Bodleian manuscripts, and refusing – especially towards the end of his life – to spend so much as a single night away from Oxford, he nevertheless refashioned himself as an independent publisher, printing scholarly editions of pre-Reformation texts for a list of dedicated subscribers. And, all this time, he was making a daily entry in his Remarks. They record much valuable bibliographical information, several vigorous (if often one-sided) feuds, and many local curiosities: Hearne was evidently a collector of old people as well as old texts, and the volumes are peppered with his accounts of the remarkably aged, and with their accounts, as told to Hearne, of lost buildings, noted ancestors, and Oxford history. They also give a vivid sense of a stubborn, punctilious, and learned man, as ready to note down ‘Strange lights in the air […] in and ab[ou]t Oxford’ (Remarks, vol. V, p. 181), or a student riot occasioned by a bull-baiting at Headington (the students wished to tie a cat ‘to the Bulls Tayl’; locals objected. The fate of the cat is not recorded (Remarks, Vol. IX, p. 295)), as to chase down early editions of Leland or record the falling prices of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (once ‘a common-place for filchers’ of Burton’s learning, now ‘disregarded’; even Isaac Newton’s works, Hearne reflects, may ‘also in time be turned to wast paper’ (Remarks, Vol. XI, p. 298)).
Hearne died in his lodgings in St Edmund Hall in 1735. He kept his old set of keys to the Bodleian until his death.
If you may not know already, the Taylor Institution houses a vast array of collections on Modern Languages and Literatures. We also house some amazing special collections. Including a lock of Goethe’s hair! The hair is kept in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. Goethe had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and expressionism. His lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.
It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was German publisher and poet Johannes Falk. At the time, Goethe was recovering from a near fatal heart illness. It is possible that the lock of hair was cut, unbeknownst to Goethe, whilst he was enjoying a restorative sleep. According to the testimony of John Falk, the living descendant of Johannes Falk, he passed on the hair to a daughter, who then proceeded to pass it onto John’s great grandfather.
In 1953, John’s grandfather, Oswald, agreed to have the hair displayed at the Taylor. The librarian at the time, Donald Sutherland, promised Oswald that the hair would be kept in a show-case in one of the Reading Rooms. For nearly 70 years, the hair has been either on display or kept in the rare book room at the Library.
Personally, I find the hair absolutely fascinating. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting and also act as a sign of prestige. By the end of his life, Goethe was highly celebrated, and to be seen to possess a lock of hair from the head of the man himself, certainly conveyed privilege. Nick Hearn, French and Russian Subject Consultant at the Taylor, adds that in the lock of Goethe’s hair the comical and frivolous seem to combine with the eternal and the hagiographical. I quite agree, as the hair has never or rarely been separated from its accompanying items. I have written a longer piece, providing more details on the hair and its associated paraphernalia. I will post this soon!
Hello, I’m Nadia, and I’m this year’s St. John’s College trainee. I graduated in July with an English Literature degree from the University of Warwick, and have been working at St. John’s since the start of August. I’ve really enjoyed my first few months as a Library trainee, although I can’t quite believe how quickly the past few months have flown by. During my undergrad degree, I worked and volunteered at my university library in a range of capacities, and I also have some (very limited) experience of working in a public library. These roles nurtured my love of books and libraries, something which has continued to grow during my trainee year so far.
Working in a college is a truly unique setting, and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. The start of my trainee year coincided with St. John’s move into a brand new Library and Study Centre. While this definitely felt like being thrown in at the deep end, it meant that I quickly familiarised myself with the new Library and how it works, as my first jobs included creating new stack signs and a new Library guide (complete with reading room maps). Since the start of term, I’ve been getting more comfortable with usual library jobs – staffing the main desk, fully processing new books and donations, creating book displays, giving tours of the new building, supervising special collections readers, and so on. I like having mini projects to do alongside the daily running of the Library – my main one this week is writing a new special collections blog post on St. John’s current exhibition.
I’ve also been attending the Bodleian training sessions, getting to know the other trainees, and attending the various (library and non-library related) events that are always going on in Oxford. Moving through the rest of the year, I’m excited to learn as much as possible, and get as much out of my year as I can.
Hello! I’m Julia and I’m this year’s Graduate Library Trainee at Wolfson College Library.
I started this trainee programme in September thinking I was already very familiar with Oxford as both a city and a university, having just graduated from here this summer with a BA in English Language and Literature. Yet I soon discovered a stark contrast between the medieval cottages and hallowed traditions of Worcester College, where I previously studied, and the 1960’s architecture and ‘egalitarian ethos’ of Wolfson College, where I now work. The collegiate system of Oxford University allows each college to develop a unique atmosphere, so I had to adjust to Wolfson’s quirks as I settled in. Meanwhile, the Bodleian-run training sessions I attended in Osney introduced me to a beautiful corner of Oxford I’d never encountered as a student!
Before I started my role at Wolfson, Sally (my wonderful predecessor) told me that being a trainee in a college library—as opposed to one of the larger Bodleian or faculty libraries—has real advantages, which has proved true in my time here so far. I feel involved in almost every part of the running of the library. As part of a team of only two librarians, I am in charge of processing new book acquisitions (invoicing, classifying, cataloguing, and labelling them) and ensuring the Common Room is stocked with the latest periodicals, as well as daily library tasks including re-shelving books and answering reader queries.
Starting the trainee year was definitely a case of being thrown in at the deep end. In my first week, I was watching the Librarian give induction talks and tours to new students; by the end of my second week, I was giving these inductions myself! Giving talks to groups of sometimes 15 or 20 students pushed me outside of my comfort zone (especially when the projector didn’t work!), but I was pleasantly surprised to witness myself developing a public-speaking persona capable of this challenge. I loved getting to know the names and faces of new students and, as Wolfson is a graduate-only college, getting to hear about the weird academic niche that each student is researching.
Being a librarian has already had its funny moments, such as when I bumped into a Wolfson student at a local Tesco’s, who recognised me as his college librarian and promptly asked me where the tinned tomatoes were! There have also been creative moments, including my #LibraryTakeover of Wolfson College’s Twitter account for National Poetry Day, which encouraged students to come to the Library and pick up one of the poetry books I’d scattered around for the occasion. And there have been surprising moments: I’m currently enjoying labelling new donations to the Library—including large collections from the philologist Anna Morpurgo Davies and the poet and former Wolfson Acting President Jon Stallworthy—because of the obscure treasures I come across.
My future plans are still uncertain, as I’d love to return to academia. But I know that, at the very least, this year is teaching me an abundance of practical skills that could help me to get a part-time library job to support myself during my future studies. I also think that learning how to assist readers in finding relevant resources will make me a better researcher.
The year so far has already immersed me in the theoretical and practical training necessary for good librarianship, and I’m excited to keep learning. If you’d told me two months ago that I’d be using Aleph to catalogue new acquisitions almost from scratch, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about!
Hi, I’m Erin, the trainee based at the Sackler Library, although I’ll also be doing shifts at the Oriental Institute Library, as well as the Taylor Institution Library, where I spent several years studying during my French and Linguistics BA here at Oxford. I’ve recently graduated from my MPhil in Celtic Linguistics at Cambridge, and I’m really looking forward to working in an academic environment, learning new skills, and exploring librarianship as a career option over the course of my traineeship.
I’d never visited the Sackler before starting here, so it took some getting used to, but the library has some really diverse and interesting collections! From Art and Architecture to Ancient History via Classics and Egyptology, just to name a few, you’d never get bored of browsing the shelves here.
So far my duties have included assisting readers, lending, returning, and processing books, as well as the other usual duties in an academic library. In addition, I have been involved in preparing for and taking readers on both Open Day and Induction Tours, as well as collating the feedback. Improving signage and documentation around the library is also an ongoing project at the Sackler, to which I have contributed.
Recently, we assembled a book display celebrating Black History Month on behalf of faculty members. It was a lot of fun designing the display, which will be up in the Sackler for the rest of the month. A more in-depth look at the display will also be available on our blog (shameless plug).
I have also had the chance to work in the Taylor Institution Library to help set up an art event for Ruskin students showcasing the Livres d’Artiste (Artist’s Books) held in the Sackler-Taylor archives that Madeleine has been working with. These books contain works in a variety of forms by some big names, including Picasso and Dali!
One exciting project I have been involved in is the Navigation and Wayfinding project, mentioned by some of the other trainees, which aims to improve the service we offer readers by making it easier for them to find their way around the libraries. This will involve various research techniques, data gathering and analysis, as well as prototyping and securing funding for possible solutions to potential problems we identify. I will be working in a team of staff from the Sackler and Taylor, including Chloe and Madeleine, to hopefully enact positive change in our overcomplicated libraries.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my time here at the Bodleian Libraries so far, and I am very excited to see what the rest of the year holds!
Hello! I’m Daniel, the Quaritch graduate trainee at the Weston Library, which houses the Bodleian’s Special Collections. I’m based in the Rare Books and Early Modern Manuscripts department, which handles a range of projects, enquiries, and outreach. I studied English here at Oxford, and worked part-time in several Bodleian libraries after graduating in 2018, picking up a range of technical skills along the way and working with some incredible people. One month into the traineeship, I’ve got my own messy desk (very libraryish, I’m told), a mountainous card catalogue to sort through, three floors of underground stacks to memorise, and more analytical bibliography to learn than I can hope to remember — and I’m more certain than ever that I want a career in rare books.
At the Weston, subject specialists mingle with polyglots and techies; there are always exhibitions to prepare for, just as there are always researchers to assist; there are all kinds of lectures, seminars, and hands-on workshops. In short, behind the studious solemnity of its two Reading Rooms, the Weston is constantly moving (and not just because of Trinity College’s building works next door). It’s a truly phenomenal place to work.
From day one, I’ve had the opportunity to handle early printed material, such as Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1543) and Hooke’s Micrographia (1665) for an overseas author writing about ‘remarkable books’. Another research enquiry involved comparing bindings in our Edmund Malone collection (including rebound volumes containing the earliest Shakespeare Quartos!) to identify the trademark tools of the German binder Christian Samuel Kalthoeber. One morning, I was deep in the Weston’s labyrinthine underground stacks, wrapping up original Tolkien watercolours in polythene for transport to the Bibliothèque Nationale. This week, I’m hunting down Samuel Johnson’s signature in a book that the Bodleian may or may not possess. It’s surreal, and sometimes challenging, to be working with material as special as this in quite ‘normal’ contexts such as stamping, barcoding, wrapping, or photographing, and really reflective of the methodical, technical skills that form an essential part of working in special collections.
When I’m not on training courses or learning cataloguing in the office, I’m moonlighting in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, assisting the Librarian with item-level captions for her upcoming exhibition in the Treasury. Exhibitions at the Weston channel the wealth of academic expertise from all kinds of fascinating subject areas, and I’d love to curate my own some day.
In the meantime, my own traineeship project for the year is to lay the groundwork for digitising some 3000 fine bindings in the Broxbourne collection, from private press books to manuscript genealogies of the kings of England. I’ll be talking more about this, and the importance of widening access to collections in the digital age, in future blog posts. Until then, you can check on the progress of the project here.
Hi everyone, I’m the other Rhiannon! What are the chances that there would be two in the same year? I’m a trainee at the Old Bodleian Library (also known as Bodley, after its founder, Thomas Bodley), alongside Evie. The Old Bod is a copyright library, so we don’t get first hand experience of loaning books to readers, but we get to do pretty much everything else!
My days at work can include shifts on the Main Enquiry Desk, answering all sorts of questions from readers, ‘roving’ in the Lower Reading Room to re-shelve books and make sure everything is in order, spending time tagging and stamping books for our New Books Displays, or helping readers gain access to Interlibrary Loans, or books held at the Staffed Desk in the Upper Reading Room. A huge part of our day at the Old Bodleian is the deliveries each morning and afternoon from our Book Storage Facility in Swindon. We have to dress in fluorescent jackets to guide the delivery van into the Old Schools Quad, unload the boxes of books, and process them all so that readers can come in and pick them up to read (as long as they don’t take them out of the library, of course). Visiting the Book Storage Facility is one of the highlights I’m most looking forward to in our training programme over the next few months!
Before I was offered a place on the Bodleian’s Graduate Traineeship scheme, I volunteered in a community library in Cheshire, and worked as a room guide at a National Trust property in North Wales, after graduating my MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Literature back in 2018. The community library was very small, staffed mainly by volunteers, and had no acquisitions, so it was quite a different experience from the Old Bodleian – but the core elements of reader service and making sure that everyone who visits the library is made welcome and given the right support are all the same.
I’m really looking forward to the academic year ahead – even though everyone I work with keeps saying “wait till term starts!” very ominously – and all the opportunities this traineeship will bring.
Hello! My name is Laura and I am a graduate trainee at the law library, along with Rhiannon! I graduated in June from the University of St. Andrews, where I studied Theology and Biblical Studies, which I enjoyed very much!
While I was a student librarian in my school, and spent quite a lot of time studying in the King James Library in St Andrews, I didn’t have any experience of working as a member of staff in an academic library before starting the traineeship. So, there has been a lot of new information and it has been interesting to see what happens behind the scenes in a library that you may not be aware of as a reader. I decided to do the traineeship to find out if librarianship was something I would like to do long term and, so far, Oxford has been the perfect place to start thinking about it!
I’m based in Information Resources in the Law Library, so Rhiannon and I do slightly different tasks on a daily basis. I do a lot of book and serials processing, labelling, shelving, creating the new journal display and spend time on the desk. I am excited to learn a lot more over the next few months, in particular, further information on cataloguing, how the Oxford libraries all work together with the BSF, and the reclassification of certain books in the Law Library into the Moys classification system.
I’m really looking forward to this year in Oxford, it seems like a lovely city (almost as pretty as St Andrews!), with so much to see and do! Everyone in the Law Library has been so welcoming and helpful and it has been great to get to know some of the other trainees during training sessions and by visiting colleges and other libraries together on the way back from training and during our lunch times!
Hi everyone, my name’s Tom, I’m the trainee for the Sainsbury Library in the Saïd Business School.
I’ve done plenty of things prior to being a trainee in librarianship – work in hospitality and the arts – and I’ve been living in Oxford since 2012 when I came here to study my MSt in Creative Writing. I was lucky enough to meet an alum of the traineeship a few years back and got to see what their life was like and hear about what working in the discipline was like first-hand. It turns out that misconceptions about what librarians do cuts both ways – I’d not really considered the role before since I’ve always wanted to work with people and the role seemed an isolated one. This isn’t the case at all, as my first few weeks have definitively proved. The sessions at Osney One with my fellow trainees are getting us all up to speed on so many systems, and I’ve been expanding my horizons outside of training as well – having admitted to my supervisor this is the first time I’ve set foot in a business library I’ve been finding books on all kinds of subjects I wouldn’t expect while re-ordering the stacks. Good lesson for a librarian: never make assumptions about a subject, they all have their depths and surprises. Being at the business school is a great place to learn fast – the students are entirely unafraid to ask questions and have high expectations, and the school plays host to events on a regular basis. I’ll also be working on the Wayfinding project Madeline mentioned in her first post on here, and I’ll be travelling to London as the Sainsbury Library’s representative for a conference on website archiving at the start of next month. The team here wanted me to know from day one how important they think it is to support each other and I really feel able to say yes to all sorts of opportunities as they appear. They’re a tight-knit team here and they all work flat-out, but have still found time to make me feel really welcomed. Everyone connected to the traineeship has been friendly and supportive, and it feels like every time I turn a corner I meet another previous trainee who’s found a role with the university. The traineeship alum who started this all for me is still in Oxford and was able to introduce me to plenty of other’s who’ve chosen to stay – some of whom were there to greet this year’s intake at the welcome tour and drinks!
When I was considering a change of role back in late 2018 I wanted to find something that wouldn’t just be a job but a career for me – if there’s anywhere I’m going to find out what life as a librarian is like, I think it’s here.
Our names are Anastasia and Mary and we are the new Graduate Trainees for the Social Science Library (commonly known as the SSL).
Anastasia (right)- I have recently finished my M.Phil in Medieval History at Trinity College Dublin and prior to that I worked in university admin at the University of Exeter and received a BA in History at the University of Nottingham. Whilst I have no previous experience working in a library, I spent hundreds of hours in my university libraries as a student and was a frequent visitor of the library services desk, with my endless questions and obscure book queries. Whilst in Dublin I was fortunate to visit a variety of libraries and archives weekly for seminars and I have volunteered in a number of different archives up and down the country . Being a medieval historian I love old documents, artefacts, pretty buildings, and historical facts, so naturally am very excited to be living in Oxford. I love being in a university environment and am looking forward to the variation that this role will provide, where (hopefully) no one day will be the same.
Mary (left)- As it happens, I also studied history at university and am similarly fascinated by all things historical. It was while studying for my degree that I realised how much I (weirdly) enjoyed searching for resources, both through online library catalogues and physically on library shelves. (Sometimes it does feel like detective work!) My library experience before starting the trainee scheme was purely through voluntary work – whilst at university I volunteered at my local public library, then, after a short work experience placement at the Royal Engineers Museum archive, I volunteered once a week at Canterbury Cathedral library for a year. Although the SSL is very different in terms of the building and its collections, the knowledge and skills I learnt through my various experiences have definitely come in useful. Besides which, I love getting a flavour of each different type of library. I am looking forward to helping readers with their enquiries and welcoming new students when term begins – though maybe once I’ve got my head around the library system myself first!
So far in the first few weeks we have done a variety of library activities – ranging from relabelling and processing new books to scanning chapters for reading lists, and from checking and reprinting library shelf signs to watering the plants and blowing up balloons for the open day. We have definitely been making the most of the glorious weather, making the most of our lunch breaks to explore the Botanical Gardens and several of the colleges and museums. It has been an enjoyable, but very busy first few weeks, preparing for when the students arrive in 0th week!