Emilia Henderson – Taylor Institution Library

A view of the front of the grand Taylor Institution Library, with 4 pillars and a large archway.

Greetings from me, Emilia, one half of the dynamic trainee-duo at the Taylorian! The other excellent half, Philippa, will tell you more about her experiences soon, I have no doubt. Though we spend them in the same building, her days probably differ more than you might expect from mine, as should soon become clear.

Exterior of Taylor Institution (Image courtesy of Taylor Institution Library.)

Though I originally hail from Sweden, this June I completed my BA in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge (at the same time as Lee, whom you’ve already met). During the long vacation between my second and my final year at Cambridge I gained my first ‘proper’ library experience (though already an ardent user of various libraries in and around Cambridge) as a Library Assistant for the International Summer Schools programme at Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education. But for nearly two months now I have found myself at The Other Place getting my loyalties confused and learning the ropes at the Taylor Institution Library, a.k.a. the Taylorian.

Sir Robert Taylor (Image courtesy of the Taylor Institution Library)

The factors that make the Taylorian special and lend it its charm are, more or less, the same things that make it rather confusing as a newcomer. Taking its name from architect Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788), the Institution was established in 1845 as a result of his generous bequest, and was from the start meant to occupy one wing of the yellow neo-classical building which is mostly taken up by the Ashmolean museum (though, this does lead some visitors aiming for the museum astray and they occasionally end up in the Taylor instead). In the early twentieth century, the University’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages was established and regular teaching and provision for its students still takes place in the Taylor Institution building. At present, there are therefore two main collections: the Research Collection (which has been assembled and added to by numerous donations throughout the Taylorian’s lifetime), for the research of modern languages[1] and literature, and linguistics; and the Teaching Collection, which focuses on providing material for undergraduates and other taught students of the modern languages faculty. As a result of this history, the library (particularly the Research Collection) has amassed numerous shelfmark systems over time with varying levels of idiosyncrasy.

One of two staircases connecting the ground floor with the Enquiry Desk, Main Reading Room and Main Stack of the Research Collection. (Image courtesy of the Taylor Institution Library)
One of two staircases connecting the ground floor with the Enquiry Desk, Main Reading Room and Main Stack of the Research Collection.
(Image courtesy of the Taylor Institution Library)

To add to both the confusion and its particular charm, the building was extended in 1938 making the library consist of two main physical parts as well as two main collections. However, since they do not always line up with each other in a straightforward way, this is a greatly contributing factor to the labyrinthine feeling of the Taylorian. It also makes directing people from one part of the building to the other fraught with potential for confusion. For example, the Teaching Collection starts on the ground floor (of the extension to the original building) whereas you get to the Research Collection via one of two grand staircases. However, the first floor of the Teaching Collection is not on the same floor as the Enquiry Desk and the Lower Stack of the Research Collection, making terms such as ‘downstairs’ and ‘upstairs’ relative concepts… Unsurprisingly, it took me the better part of my first month to learn how to most efficiently navigate the building (not to mention learn where the various shelfmarks are kept!), which I tend to tell new readers to reassure them whenever they are apologetic about feeling confused.

Enquiry Desk (Image courtesy of Taylor Institution Librar)y
Enquiry Desk
(Image courtesy of Taylor Institution Library)

So far, I have been mainly stationed at the Enquiry Desk of the Research Collection. It is aptly named since one of my main tasks is answering various reader enquiries. There is also various admin to be done on a daily basis, such as book processing (the daily transfer of items from the Book Storage Facility and back again, new acquisitions, book donations and so forth), monitoring the Taylorian enquiries and renewals-email account together with Philippa, and fetching books for first and second year undergraduates who need to wait until their final year before they can roam freely in the Main Stack of the Research Collection.

The Main Reading Room, favored (Image courtesy of Taylor Institution Library)
The lovely Main Reading Room.
(Image courtesy of Taylor Institution Library)

However, since my biggest passion is for manuscripts and other rare books I am happiest whenever I get a chance to go on an errand to the Rare Books Room. The Taylorian’s collection of rare books and other special items, while humbled by the size of equivalent collections housed in some of the other libraries in Oxford, is impressively varied nonetheless. It includes such disparate items as a tiny(!) fourteenth century copy of the Magna Carta, a wealth of sixteenth century Luther pamphlets, and a neatly framed lock of Goethe’s hair (which I only learned of by accident the other week when it was being returned from a teaching session). For more on the Taylorian’s special collections I highly recommend visiting the Taylor Institution Library blog.

MS.8°.G.26, a lock of Goethe's hair. (Image my own)
MS.8°.G.26, a lock of Goethe’s hair.
(Image my own)

My most impressive personal achievements so far include naming and baptising the only still unnamed member of the fleet of faithful trolleys which help us each day, and designing the layout of the print-out of this year’s milk rota. I am also in the process of taking over a previous trainee’s project, which will (all things being well) help dispel some of the future shelfmark-confusion, in the Teaching Collection at least. The traineeship and my time at the Taylor has been brilliant so far, with constant opportunities to learn more about various aspects of librarianship and the information profession, and I look forward to soaking up as much of the abundance of knowledge around me as I can!



[1] However, since the 1960s the Slavonic and East European collections have been housed at a different location, currently on Wellington Square.

Mary Atkinson- English Faculty Library

Hi I’m Mary, this year’s trainee based at the EFL. I studied my BA in English at the University of Sussex, then an MA in Early Modern English Literature: Text and Transmission at Kings College London. My masters was taught in conjunction with the British Library and so I was able to use some brilliant manuscripts and early printed books for my dissertation on the culture of jest-telling (very lucky that I managed to get away with making books of silly jokes my dissertation topic!). I also interned at Lambeth Palace Library transcribing their 19th century handwritten catalogue and checking books for signs of provenance. These experiences led me to consider pursuing librarianship as a career. Following my studies I spent a year in the world of tea retail (more stressful than it sounds!). The next step was getting a job as a Library Assistant in a public library, which I enjoyed very much. I loved being part of a local community, being an information detective and of course Story Time. Two years later I decided I wanted to gain experience working in an academic library, so here I am at the EFL!

Nearly two months into my traineeship, I feel like I’ve really settled in and I’m sure this year will go by far too quickly. The EFL is a really friendly place to work and I have a lovely team of colleagues who have made me feel very welcome. The EFL’s mascot, Bill (pictured, inspecting the shiny new books waiting to be processed), lives in our office and I have also inherited Thomas the Tank Engine as my desk buddy, left behind at some point by a mystery reader.

During term time the EFL is a busy lending library, providing course/research materials, study space and IT facilities for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers. My work is really varied and includes helping readers at the issue desk and around the library, admin things like banking, emails and post sorting, helping with social media, hunting for missing books and book processing (library craft time, featuring stamping, label-making and sticky back plastic). At the moment we’re trying to think of different ways to engage with our students through social media; we now have an Instagram account, and have just launched #eflsuggest, where students vote for one of three books for the EFL to purchase. I’m also hoping to make more use of LibraryThing to promote our collections.

oxford sausage 2

I’m also responsible for our displays, meaning I can show off things I like from our rare books collection. For my first display I chose to feature 17th and 18th century verse miscellanies, including a silly one of course: ‘The Oxford Sausage’ (pictured). Not sure yet how I’ll top that one.
Another great thing about the traineeship so far has been meeting my fellow trainees; starting a new job in a new city is much easier when there are 14 other people sharing similar experiences. I’m looking forward to the rest of our year!

Sophie Quantrell – Reader Services: Old Bodleian

Hello! I’m Sophie, the Reader Services trainee for this year. I’m based in the Old Bodleian so I see Elizabeth (see above – Archives trainee) every couple of days and Danielle (also above) quite a lot!

Old Bod

I came to this position from a background in Theology (BA and MA), followed by a brief stint teaching in a secondary school, and eventually a year’s volunteering a day per week in a Special Collections library. I’m currently very happy to be here, six weeks into my Graduate Traineeship, at the point at which the world is beginning to make sense again. The last few weeks has been a deluge of information, systems and the obligatory new-job cold, though it’s been very enjoyable – the job, that is, not the cold.

To work in the Bodleian is to have a very unique library experience. It is an organisation of many layers that somehow manages to function as a fully operational academic library, a historical monument, and a tourist attraction all at the same time. It has somehow gotten the balance between the three and they exist, the majority of the time, in harmony. There are people who have been here so long that they can explain the migration of and changes to collections and buildings over many years, and people who, like me, are new to Oxford, city, university and library, and are just about functioning!

The first few weeks here have involved trying to understand how the Bodleian manages the transference, cataloguing, lending and tending to thousands of books per day while negotiating its layers of tradition, history, policy and practice. Duke Humfrey’s library is a great example of this. It has managed to achieve its goal of being a quiet and working study space while respecting its ancient trappings (really, let’s not put sellotape on the medieval panelling) and, of course, admitting quite a few tours per day. Fortunately, most of the trainees have had a few weeks of vacation to learn the ropes before the rush descends, although I’ve certainly been enjoying the beginning of Michaelmas term, book deliveries having doubled and many more people needing help around the library.

There have definitely been two things that I have found particularly perplexing as a newcomer to the Bodleian.

First of all, the classification systems are confusing at first. Most libraries have beautiful things such as the Dewey Decimal system or the Library of Congress. Not so, here! Or at least, not only. There are many classification systems, the worst to navigate being the Nicholson in the Gladstone Link but the worst to get wrong in terms of distance walked being “Hist.” and “S. Hist” which are not even in the same building.

Secondly, how did Mr Henry Aldrich manage to get two portraits of himself in the same room of the Lower Reading Room? Maybe he just thought nobody would notice…

I had had visions of my first week here being very similar to the scene in ‘The Mummy’ where we are first introduced to the librarian, Evie, sitting in a pile of books, manuscripts and bookcases which have just cascaded to the floor in one glorious domino effect. Fortunately, though, most of the Bodleian’s bookcases are attached to the wall – for the moment.

Lee Colwill – Law Library

Hi! I’m Lee, the Law Library Trainee. My main experience with libraries before joining the Bodleian was as the librarian of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society’s library. This had the pretty great perk of being able to buy all the sci-fi and fantasy books our budget could handle (so, about five), but I have to say, it’s nice to have librarianship be my main focus now, not just something to be squeezed in around my degree. Said degree was in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, which is slightly more relevant to working in a Law Library than you might expect – I eagerly await the day when only my detailed knowledge of medieval Welsh law can save us from cataloguing disaster. Any day now…

The Law Library is a pretty fantastic place to work. Our collection is hugely varied, ranging from up-to-the-minute dossiers on tax law to law reports from the Elizabethan period, not forgetting the wonderful Red X Criminology section, a.k.a. the Trashy Jack the Ripper Books section (now, alas, mostly in Swindon). Almost everything is open-shelf, which means a shelving trolley might contain anything from the most recent Parliamentary publication to a book printed in the 17th century (I’m still quite excited about that one).

View over the Main Reading Room

At the moment the library is fairly quiet (in terms of readers, if not in terms of actual noise levels, thanks to the building works happening at the moment), which has given me the chance to learn a lot about all of the varied work that happens here. I’m based in Information Resources, where I’m mainly involved in the behind-the-scenes work of processing new books, but I’ve also been learning about the Academic Services side of things, such as the Document Delivery Service. Recently, I’ve been helping out with induction tours for new postgraduate students. When I first arrived, I thought I’d never learn my way around, so it’s quite a relief to realise that I actually do know where most things are (although I do occasionally go up one of the more twisty staircases and realise I have absolutely no idea where I’ve come out).

One of the things I’m looking forward to in my traineeship is the opportunity to get involved with the Moys reclassification project that’s currently happening in the Law Library. The Moys shelfmark system is designed specifically for law collections and is meant to make it a lot easier to browse the shelves by subject. Since my involvement in the Great Recataloguing of the Sci-Fi Library back at university, intuitive shelfmarks are a subject dear to my heart, and I’m warped (or perhaps just boring) enough to find cataloguing really enjoyable.

That’s about it from me. I’m looking forward to learning all sorts of new skills over the next year (and hopefully becoming reasonably competent at a few of them!), and this seems like a pretty good place to do that.

Tom Dale, Social Science Library

Hi all, I’m Tom, one of the new trainees in the Social Science Library (Clare, my fellow trainee, will introduce herself soon).

library entrance 20140216

I’ve held part-time positions in seven Bodleian Libraries over the last 18 months, and I’m delighted to finally have one job in one library (the life of an itinerant library assistant is a tiring one). My aim throughout my first year with the Bod was to get onto the trainee scheme. Now I’m on it, my aim is to learn as much as possible.

The SSL is the largest lending library in Oxford and serves a diverse group of readers. The ethos is user-centric – we are here to satisfy the information needs of social scientists, PPE students, characterful members of the public and anyone else who walks through our door. There is always a lot to do, from the short-term – staffing the issue desk, sorting the post, processing books to go out onto the shelves – to longer-term projects. The SSL relies heavily on its trainees, so we have been on a steep learning curve. This keeps the job challenging and rewarding.


Whenever I enter a library for the first time I ask myself the same question: what’s weird about it? There’s always something. Every library is distinctive in its approach, collection, reader base and atmosphere.

The SSL is weird in its normality. Some Oxford libraries reside in ancient labyrinthine buildings, use arcane classification systems and seem to be open to just a few select acolytes. The SSL is housed on one floor of a bright new building, uses a simple and common classification system and is open to most people who have an interest in using it. It feels more like an efficient modern business than part of a centuries-old organisation.

As noted above, our role is diverse. I am particularly interested in the technical services aspect of it, but I’m pleased to be doing a bit of everything. After this year I hope to continue working for the Bodleian while doing an MSc in Information Science. Beyond that, who knows? This job is preparing us for an array of potential career paths. The future’s bright! The present is book processing.

Danielle Czerkaszyn, History Faculty Library

Hi! I’m Danielle, the new Graduate Library Trainee for the History Faculty Library. I am based in the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link.

Radcliffe Camera

A bit about me: I am from Hamilton, Ontario and completed a BA in History from the University of Guelph and an MA in History from the University of Western Ontario. In 2011 I took the plunge and moved across the ocean to England for the MA in Museum Studies programme at the University of Leicester. Following my year in Leicester, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to go back to Canada and I am still in the UK four years later!

Unlike most of the other trainees, I am new to working in libraries. I’ve had a wide variety of customer service jobs and volunteer roles- everything from a coffee shop barista to a museum intern to a front of house assistant at a major UK tourist attraction- but never a library, although the idea of being a librarian has always been at the back of my mind. During my time at university I spent a lot of time in the library and often wondered what it would be like to work on the other side of the desk. With my background in history and museums, I figured a career as a librarian wasn’t too far off since libraries often put on exhibitions with their special collections and a lot of museums have libraries and archives. Plus I have always been one to have a book on the go and love the idea of being surrounded by books! I realise librarians are far too busy to do any reading on the job but that doesn’t stop me from noting down books that I might like to peruse on my own time.

I was fortunate enough to be placed in the History Faculty Library which houses the University of Oxford’s main collection of undergraduate materials in Medieval and Modern History, as well as in the History of Art and History of Science.  It is nice to be in my subject area and among some interesting historical material- I have even found myself shelving books I recognise from my own studies. I also have the added benefit of working in a stunning historical building which is not a bad place to arrive each morning.

Radcliffe Camera ceiling
Upper Camera Ceiling

Having never worked in a library before I didn’t really know what to expect when I started at the beginning of the month. I have had a lot of training in the past couple of weeks and have done several solo shifts on the reception and circulation desks- luckily help has always been nearby! I have also done a few closing shifts which involve ringing an antique bell and shooing out the readers reluctant to leave. I think the most challenging part so far has been remembering all the required passwords and getting to grips with the vast amount of library jargon and abbreviations. Fortunately my colleagues in the Camera have been very patient and helpful as I get orientated. September is a good month to start as the library is relatively quiet, however I’ve been told nothing will prepare me for the change of pace next month when term starts and the new students arrive.

If these first few weeks are anything to go by, I am looking forward to the year ahead- getting to know my fellow trainees, becoming more confident in my role at the HFL, and exploring all that Oxford has to offer.

Alan McKechnie, Sainsbury Library

Hello everyone! I’m Alan and I’m the new Graduate Library Trainee at the Sainsbury Library within the Saïd Business School.

Sainsbury Library, Saïd Business School
Sainsbury Library, Saïd Business School

So, a little bit more about me and how I ended up on this traineeship. I’m from Yorkshire (East that is, naturally the best) and studied at the University of Hull gaining both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Historical Research, focusing on maritime history, in particularly nineteenth century US piracy and privateering- after all, who doesn’t love swashbuckling adventurers! I deemed piracy too dangerous of a profession to pursue myself, so instead opted to work within the maritime academic sphere Hull had to offer, becoming a volunteer at Blaydes House Maritime Historical Studies Centre (which I highly recommend any visitors to Hull go check out!). I found myself in the attic of this eighteenth century house sorting and cataloguing a large donation consisting of technical drawings of ships, early sea-charts, as well as miscellaneous research materials – some of which even appropriately still smelt of the sea (a.k.a. fish)! It was my love of working with these materials that lead to me applying to get a place on the traineeship, and six months later here I am, working in one of the world’s leading academic libraries.

Blaydes House, Hull (Hull History Centre)
Blaydes House, Hull (Hull History Centre)

So far it’s been a fairly busy start in the library. We’re currently renovating the old stack room into a quiet study area. This has meant moving large quantities of books from the stacks to another floor; it’s been a bit arduous, but should hopefully be complete by October ready for the new students’ use. My other day-to-day duties include: processing new book and journal acquisitions, reclassifying old literature, and creating the welcome packs for new members of staff. I was also tasked with redesigning and updating a large collection of database guides for the new students who have just started, as well as general housekeeping to make sure the library is in ship-shape for the start of term. I’ve also started working on the enquiry desk on my own. Luckily for me I’ve mainly been dealing with returning students who have been patient and lovely as I’ve try to help them; fortunately, help has never been far away. In terms of visitors, though, it’s been relatively quiet, but I’m foreseeing that this peace won’t last long!

So that’s about it for my time here so far, all I have to do now is enjoy the rest of my year, explore Oxford, and I’ll keep you all posted!

Elizabeth Back – Archives Assistant (Trainee), Oxford University Archives

Hello all, I’m Elizabeth. I’m in my first month working with the Oxford University Archives.

Tower of the Five Orders

For those who don’t know, OUA hold the administrative records of the University. We are housed in the Tower of the Five Orders in the Old Bodleian, guarded by James I who sits on his stone throne outside the Lower Archive Room. If Wikipedia can be believed, ‘the Tower is so named because it is ornamented, in ascending order, with the columns of each of the five orders of classical architecture: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.’ If you look at the capitals on the columns you can see the differences in the five classical styles so, in this instance, I am inclined to believe them! The tower was likely finished between 1615 and 1619, but the tower as we see it today owes much to restoration work in the 1870s.*

View of the Weston from my desk.
View of the Weston from my desk.

We also have stacks in the new Weston library and any external readers who have requested to view something from our collections are invited to do so in the Rare Books and Manuscripts reading room over here. We also assist internal University departments as many of our documents are still relevant and useful to them.


Like other Library and Information Services roles, it’s a job that can require a lot of lifting and handling of sometimes heavy materials but this particular role also involves a lot of stairs. I don’t think I’m going to need a gym membership to keep me fit this year!

I am really enjoying my placement so far. There are some real gems in this collection and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better. My favourite item so far is the Proctorial Cycle (1628) as it is beautifully illuminated with birds and flowers, and bears the signature of King Charles I. It is a calendar organising the order in which the colleges would have the privilege of electing a University proctor from their ranks. The role of Proctor still exists at the University and if you want a less dry introduction to what they do there is an Oxford Student article where the then Proctors were interviewed here.

As you may know, the University does not have an official founding date but the earliest University document held in the University Archives dates back to 1214 (you can see it here). It details privileges conferred by the papal legate following a dispute between town and gown (in which, I understand, a woman was alleged to have been murdered by a scholar and the town sought retribution by hanging two University clerks. They didn’t have Morse back then, so the Pope had to settle it).

Many of our records are much more recent than these and I have enjoyed helping family and local historians trace their ancestors. We often hear from people interested to know if their grandfather or great grandfather came here and I really enjoy it if I can tell them that they did and perhaps give them a few details.

I hope this has been an illuminating insight into what I do. By the end of this year I am sure I will be full of facts about the University’s history. I find it all fascinating so I hope I don’t get carried away with anecdotes that no one wants to hear!


* Cole, Catherine, ‘The Building of the Tower of Five Orders in the Schools’ Quadrangle at Oxford’ in Oxoniensia Vol. XXXIII (1968) pp. 92-107

Emma Quinlan – Kathleen Major Library, St. Hilda’s College

Hello all! I’m Emma and I am the new(ish!) Graduate Library Trainee at the Kathleen Major Library, better known as the St. Hilda’s College Library. I say newish as I started the post in April as the wonderful past trainee (Grace Brown) secured a full time job at the Bodleian through her second year at St. Hilda’s.

St. Hilda’s Main Reading Room

So a little bit about me … I graduated in 2013 with a 1st class honours degree in Observational Astronomy from the University of Glamorgan. I specialised in solar system volcanology over my two dissertations; volcanism in the inner solar system and cryovolcanism in the outer solar system. I know it sounds star trekkie but no, there was no mention of Spock in my work! I spent most of my school life in the library – doing work, swotting up and most importantly reading Star Wars novels (I must have been the only person to do so as the librarian was shocked that I would request more books from the series …). I have fond memories of finding exciting novels to read as well as, you guessed it, finding lots of stuff on volcanoes and astronomy! A home from home, I learned that life could be exciting, knowledgeable and dare I say it, dangerous, without leaving the comfort of my chair.

My library experience (apart from being in one for the majority of my educational life) has been based on public libraries. I worked as a relief library assistant after graduating for a year and a bit before getting the post at St. Hilda’s. I fell in love with library work and interacting with the public and then everything slotted into place – librarians are awesome! I want to be awesome … I will become a librarian!
So far St. Hilda’s has been a joy. Starting at the beginning of Trinity term with lots of anxious students got me into the swing of things quite quickly. I have had the long summer to complete some small projects (yay!) and to look forward to finally meeting my fellow trainees (double yay!).

I can’t wait to get the trainee year properly underway, getting to know Hilda’s and all you trainees further and looking forward to all there is to experience in the Oxford library system.

Welcome to our new trainees 2015-16!

I met with our new trainees at their welcome session on 2nd September.  We have 15 trainees in total this year who are based in both the Bodleian and college libraries.  The welcome session was a chance for them to meet one another and introduce them to Oxford and its libraries and the trainee scheme.

Our trainees 2015-16
Our trainees 2015-16

The trainees will be introducing themselves on the blog and posting regularly about their experiences and progress over the coming year.  I hope they all have a great year with us!