Liam Livesley, St Hilda’s College Library

St Hilda’s is, I think, something of a special college. It was the last in Oxford to start admitting men, becoming co-educational in 2008. It is (I’m told) the only college east of the river Cherwell.  Our buildings are dotted around several acres of open gardens, rather than bound up in quadrangles. And, our 60,000+ holdings aren’t on SOLO (the university-wide catalogue) but can be perused instead (by Oxford users) through our own Heritage catalogue.

And now it’s where I work! I’m Liam, and I’m the graduate trainee at the Kathleen Major Library at St Hilda’s this year. I finished an MA in political theory at the University of Sheffield over the summer, and before that I read philosophy at Jesus College, Cambridge, so I’m currently learning to replace one set of jargon (e.g. court, supervision, bedder) with another (quad, tutorial, scout).

St Hilda’s main reading room, which opened in 1935 and is a treat if you’re a fan of oak panelling. [All photos taken (inexpertly) by the author.].

It’s an interesting time for the Hilda’s library at the moment, as we’re currently making the transition to self-service issue and return. A fair chunk of my time in the couple of weeks that I’ve been here has been spent electronically tagging books and troubleshooting the new equipment (should that be glowing/beeping and, if not, how do we stop it glowing/beeping?). Today’s new challenge is to work out how to add items like bookstands and keys to the system, and, in the latter case, where to source the large pieces of wood we think we might want to attach to them.  As you might expect, I’ve also spent a lot of time staffing our issue desk and processing and shelving books, which has been great for getting to know our readers and our catalogue.

An ongoing project of mine is to create more shelf space to clear the backlog of new books that currently have no home to go to. Our medicine and biology collections, for example, are housed in rolling stacks in our basement and are currently extremely congested (no medical pun intended). Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just moving stock around – instead, I’m having to virtually dismantle and rebuild our shelving, with the help of the delightfully-named shelf clips called “tonks”. I’m hoping to get this all finished as soon as possible as I imagine the amount of time I can spend lurking in the stacks will decrease dramatically once our undergrads return. I’m also hoping to start a project this term on surveying our damaged books and assessing whether they can be repaired in-house, or whether they should be sent off for more serious repairs or replaced.

L – Some of our rolling stacks in the Cinderford Trust Room. R – A bushel of tonks.

St Hilda’s is an extremely peaceful place to work. Only members of the College can regularly use the library (although we do get visitors, particularly to the Archives), and, tucked away down Cowley Place as we are, not many tourists find us. The Cherwell wends its way through the grounds, disturbed only by the ducks and the assorted punters of varying aptitude. We’re a very small library team, with only the Librarian, the Archivist, and myself at present as we await the arrival of our new Assistant Librarian. This is fantastic, not just because it means I know everyone I work with very well, but because I get to do a bit of everything and gain experience very quickly across the board.

The Cherwell saunters past the Milham Ford building.

We have a training session this afternoon at the Bodleian offices out at Osney Mead, so I’d better make the most of the rest of the morning and get back down to the stacks!

Chris Cottell, Christ Church Library

I was recently asked by a young prospective student from central London, “So what do you think of the Bullingdon club?”

The question wasn’t malicious- just curious. It’s an honest reflection of the many issues that the University of Oxford is currently contending with, balancing its roles as an internationally renowned centre of learning with its cultural history as a centre of class privilege. Working at Christ Church library, and as a recent Oxford graduate (from Hertford College), I will be dealing with these issues all year, and hopefully through this blog we’ll all show the more open, friendly and accessible side of Oxford through detailing our work at one of its most stereotypically closed institutions.

But for now? Top of my to-dos is shelving… so I think I’ll write this blog instead.

Taccio il Cielo in la Terra, Rovetta, 1629, Canto
First page of the Canto part of the madrigal Taccia il Cielo in la terra
(Rovetta, 1629) (Mus 484) [thanks, Alina!]
As an undergrad, I’d been into Christ Church  for occasional tutorials, but never seen the majority of the college. As it turns out, Christ Church is big- with seemingly infinite gardens (rectors’, deans’, fellows’, summer, winter, moon, cheese) and many quadrangles, through which flow an also apparently infinite stream of tourists, who seem to wake up much earlier than any current students.

As a rude introduction to college life, one of the earliest issues I had was not knowing what to say to tourists who would like to look around the library. Apparently, like a “broken record”, I should repeat that the library is for members only. It seemed a shame to shut out people who mostly would just like to wonder at the space that our students (and staff) inhabit and often take for granted- but if there was a possibility of them disturbing our readers, then there isn’t much else that can be done. Unlike most students, I’m rather fond of tourists: their constant presence reminds me how beautiful and full of history these spaces are, and through their presence they support the studies of all of our academics, providing a sustainable source of income for both the central Bodleian Library and many colleges.

Work in the library so far has mostly been processing, tagging, shelving and re-shelving- like Oxford’s other academic libraries, we’re trying to get all of our big jobs completed before the start of term rush. However, we’re currently losing a significant amount of space in our basement storage area due to a redevelopment of the buildings it is situated under, so we’re in the process of re-organising much of our basement stock. In fact, the whole quad is being redeveloped; as part of this plan, a future refurbishment of the library is on the calendar in a few years’ time, so it’s certainly worth the extra work now for the later rewards- though that will be well beyond my time here!

This shifting around of stock has meant that I get involved in lots of book moving, and to my great interest, has meant taking ownership of shelving the music score collection in the student library for the first time in a long while. Hopefully this means it will be borrowed, as it turns out that many of the titles are listed on SOLO under their names in foreign languages and have been impossible to find for many years!

[Image courtesy of David Stumpp,  Antiquarian Catologuer at Christ Church]
Perhaps the most exciting thing that’s happened so far is also the reason I am most eager to be working here at Christ Church. We have the largest college library staff, up to nine on a good day with fair weather, four of us working downstairs in the Student Library. The remainder of the staff work upstairs in the Upper Library, which houses much of our Special Collections, under the supervision of the Keeper of Special Collections, Dr Cristina Neagu, while the Archivist works separately in the archives. The library and archives hold tens of thousands of priceless materials currently being digitised, catalogued and regularly read (under strict supervision!) by readers and academics from the international community.

Recently, Alina, our Photographic and Special Collections Assistant, asked for my help with a project. A significant proportion of Alina’s job is photographic commissions, where a researcher asks for highly detailed reproductions of a particular item that we hold, generally for publication or because they are unavailable to view the item in person. A researcher had asked for photographs of the madrigal (an early type of choral piece) Taccia il Cielo in la terra (1629), from Rovetta’s Madrigali Concertati Libro Primo (Mus 484-488), a manuscript of early music of which we have a copy in Special Collections. Alina asked for my help identifying the piece of music in question, making my music degree significantly more useful than I could ever have expected.

Identifying the individual work was difficult as Mus 484-488 are a set of part-books: this means that the nine individual parts of the madrigal (six voice parts and three instrumental parts) are spread across five physical books. To increase the complexity, each individual part book also includes multiple collections of madrigals! After a struggle, we found the start of the piece, and noted that parts were arranged in pairs: two parts in each partbook, facing each other on opposite pages. This meant that the first violin part was on the opposite page to the highest voice part, et cetera down through the parts, leaving the basso continuo (the instrumental accompaniment part) in its own book. Cross-referencing sections between parts and between books, it was easy to identify where Taccia il Cielo began and ended, and Alina showed me how her camera set-up works, which involves a very expensive camera, a frame and even a vacuum!

Hopefully there will be more like this- Alina’s said she’d love for me to help more often- and I’m expecting the year will be varied. However, one thing’s for sure, as the arrival of students looms: there’ll always be something to do around here.

Now, I’d better get to that shelving…

A view across the back of Tom Quad, taken from Killcanon
A drab day in Christ Church is still pretty magical!

Tom Roberts, Taylor Institution Library

Hi, I’m Tom and I’m the trainee at the Taylor Institution Library this year.

Unlike many of the other trainees, immediately prior to taking up my position I was an undergraduate student. I graduated in July with a BA degree in History from the London School of Economics. I don’t have any prior experience of working in a library – my only previous job was as a sales assistant in a busy, grubby garden centre, an environment quite different from the Taylor’s quiet book stacks and grand décor! I feel very lucky to have started my library career in one of the Bodleian Libraries – it is the best possible place to get my first taste of working in an academic library.

The Taylor Institution is a beautiful, labyrinthine library that specialises in European languages, as well as Film Studies. It is split up into two parts – the Research Collection (of most use to those studying beyond undergraduate level) and the Teaching Collection (used primarily by undergraduates). Most of the time I am based at the Issue Desk, which is situated at the entrance to the Teaching Collection.

In my first few weeks here the most fundamental challenge I have been faced with is the difficult task of learning the layout of the library. It is fair to say that the Taylorian isn’t the easiest library to get to grips with, at least at first. However, the maze-like nature of the rooms found within this handsome building means that there is always something new to be discovered lurking amongst the towering stacks. When I haven’t been at training, I have also been gaining my first taste of the basics of library work: loaning and returning books, registering new readers, helping readers to find the material that they need, dealing with deliveries from the book storage facility in Swindon, and processing new books and DVDs (adding barcodes, security tags, etc.). I must admit though that, as the world’s least practical man, I’m not much good at wrapping new books in protective plastic.

Currently the library is not seeing much footfall, as term hasn’t started yet. I am grateful for this period of calm, before the inevitable storm that will no doubt arrive in the form of enthusiastic students come October – it has allowed me to ease myself into familiarity with the everyday tasks that will occupy me much of the time I am here. I am, however, looking forward to the arrival of the students, and I hope that I will be able to help them to access the materials that they need for their courses in the most pain-free way possible.

My first few weeks have been somewhat hectic and I still have a way to go towards memorising everything I need to and putting it all into practice, but I’m very much looking forward to the coming year in Oxford and everything that it brings.

Image courtesy of Taylor Institution Library

Welcome to our 2017-18 trainees!

We welcomed our new trainees to Oxford this week and we have a record 25 trainees this year in total.  Eleven of our trainees are based in our Bodleian Libraries, 8 in our colleges and we have 6 Digital Archives trainees too. St Hugh’s College and Christ Church College have recruited trainees again this year after a break or a couple of years. They have a packed training programme this term and they begin their training in resource discovery and OLIS this week. They are looking forward to their tour of the Bodleian and drinks in the Divinity School next week where Laura How, Head of Administration and Finance, will welcome them to the libraries.

Our trainees will be introducing themselves on the trainee blog over the next week or two, so do follow their progress throughout the year. Do say hello if you happen to spot any of them. We wish them a happy and successful year with us in Oxford!

The 2017-18 trainees at the welcome session