Hair Today, Still Hair Tomorrow

Interesting Find: Goethe’s Hair at the Taylor Institution Library

As promised, here is a longer post all about this most unusual artefact!

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 even has its own shelfmark: MS.8º.G.26. The shelfmark is an octavo. Professor Henrike Lähnemann of the University’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages finds this amusing. This is because the octavo refers to the original German paper slip holding the hair. Lähnemann has said that the slip is like a secular counterpart to the authentication papers which comes with saint’s relics. In the Middle Ages, they were called cedulae, where the name of the saint was noted and then tied to the relic. This placement of slip and hair in a small envelope appears to indicate the treatment of Goethe’s hair as if it were the relic of a saint. Today, Goethe’s hair continues to fascinate visitors of the library. The hair is displayed in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope. Why does the Taylor have such a mysterious artefact, and how did the library even attain it in the first place? All will be revealed.

Figure 1: Goethe’s hair, framed with sketched portrait and violet. The English envelope features on top.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He was a statesman, and from 1775 joined the court of the Duke of Weimar. Goethe held several, responsible, administrative and advisory posts in the government. Yet, political duties got in the way of his writing. Eventually, Goethe left on a two year trip to Italy (without telling anyone!) in order to come to terms with his art. Upon returning to Germany, Goethe was no longer involved in public affairs. Instead, he cultivated his passions, including his plays, poems, and novels, but also his scientific studies. Goethe’s works include Faust (Part One and Two 1808 and 1832, respectively), Roman Elegies (1795), and The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Goethe also found the time to translate works into German, write an autobiography (Poetry and Truth, 1811-33), and also edit and publish several literary reviews!

Goethe died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. He had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and Expressionism. Goethe’s lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.

Presumably, as was common place in western cultures, when a person was gravely ill or had died, locks of hair were shorn from Goethe’s head. The locks were then distributed to close family and friends. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting to the grieving 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. Those of you who are Goethe fans may have noticed this was in complete contrast to how his friend Eckermann viewed removing locks from Goethe’s head. In the final passage of Conversations with Goethe, Eckermann, upon seeing Goethe in his death bed, remembered how he ‘wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence prevented me from cutting it off’.

Clearly, the sheer, celestial monument of Goethe on his death bed, did not stop everyone from taking a small keepsake. There is no record whether Goethe gave his permission for a lock of his hair to be cut. Susan Halstead is a Social Sciences Subject Librarian at the British Library. According to her, Goethe’s reaction to such a request would have depended on who made it. Ottilie von Goethe, his daughter-in-law may have received a favourable response, as she cared for the elderly Goethe until his death. Whereas, Bettina von Arnim would have received a much dustier response. After all, her friendship with Goethe was ended, due to Bettina’s ‘insolent behaviour’ towards Goethe’s wife.

It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was Johannes Falk. Whilst there is no mention of Falk in any accounts of Goethe’s illness in 1823 and eventual passing, chronologies of the day were compiled by scholars collating diaries, letters and conversation in the 20th century. So, it was only people who were actually there at the time, who could have known that Goethe was convalescing. 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.

Falk (1768-1826) was a German publisher and poet. Frequenting the literary circles of Schiller and Goethe, he became a close friend of Goethe. Therefore, Falk may have been one of Goethe’s visitors when he was taken ill. One inscription accompanying the hair was possibly penned by Falk himself (see Figure 2). The inscription is simply entitled Goethes Haar (Goethe’s hair) and reads as follows:

Diese Locke(n) wurden ihm 2ten März in den Tagen seiner Genesung von der Krankheit abgeschnitten. 

This lock was cut from him on the 2nd March in the days of his convalescence from illness

There is currently, no direct evidence that Falk was the true author of this inscription. To establish true authorship, handwriting analysis would have to be undertaken. Manuscripts penned by Johannes kept in the Falk Archive in Weimar, would need to be compared with the inscription. Despite this, there is still a high possibility that Johannes wrote it.

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. A second inscription also accompanies the artefact and seems to confirm this, with the heading of Goethe’s hair (see Figure 2). The text is in English and is as follows:

Given me by my Aunt, Mrs Gabriele Saaltzen, of Weimar, the only surviving child of my Father’s Uncle, Johannes Daniel Falk, the Satirist and Friend of Goethe.  Given me at Catsclough, Cheshire on Fri Aug. 19. 1881.  H. John Falk.

Figure 2: German slip (left) and English envelope (right)

The inscription is on the English little envelope in which the lock of hair was kept for 58 years. It is unclear if Gabriele Saaltzen was visiting Catsclough or if she was a resident. It is very possible that she was one of Johannes’ daughters, as out of the ten children Johannes had with his wife Caroline Rosenfield, only two daughters survived. If Gabriela was Johannes’ youngest daughter, she would have been in her sixties in 1881. Therefore, she must have treasured the hair for most of her life. It may be natural to assume that she wanted to pass it and other small relics such as the portrait of Goethe and the pressed violet onto the next generation. Gabriele or Falk may have added these items, intending them to be accompanied with the hair wherever it went. Presumably in a similar act of veneration, H. John Falk may have framed the three little items (see Figure 1).

A violet seems to be an odd choice to accompany the hair. But the reason for this, as Lähnemann explained, is due to the popularity of Das Veilchen (The Violet), which is a poem by Goethe. The last stanza of the poem is:

Ach! aber ach! das Mädchen kam

Und nicht in Acht das Veilchen nahm,

Ertrat das arme Veilchen.

Es sank und starb und freut’ sich noch:

Und sterb’ ich denn, so sterb’ ich doch

Durch sie, durch sie,

Zu ihren Füßen doch.

Das arme Veilchen

Es war ein herzigs Veilchen!

 

But alas, alas, the girl drew near

And took no heed of the violet,

Trampled the poor violet.

It sank and died, yet still rejoiced:

And if I die, at least I die

Through her, through her

And at her feet.

The poor violet!

It was a dear sweet violet!

Goethe’s poem was composed as a song for voice and piano by Mozart in 1785. Mozart’s composition would have made Das Veilchen a staple piece to be enjoyed in the 19th century drawing room. The violet is a tad masochistic, but its addition is a romantic touch, alluding to the popular ‘crush’ on Goethe.

The sketched portrait has been observed to be similar to other portraits of Goethe. In particular, in Goethes aussere Erscheingung: literarische und kuenstlerische Dokumente seiner Zeitgenossen by Emil Schaeffer, we can see striking similarities between it and the porcelain painting by Ludwig Sebbers (1826) in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3: Porcelain painting by Ludwig Sebbers.
Figure 4: Lithograph by Grevedon after the lost drawing by Kiprinsky (1823)

There are also noted similarities in a lithograph by Grevedon, a copy of a lost drawing by Orest Adamovitsch Kiprensky (1823) in Figure 4. In both portraits, we can see the same receding hairline. However, the Kiprensky portrait differs from the sketched portrait and Sebbers’ porcelain painting as Goethe’s facial expression is more severe. It is interesting to note that one these portraits, Goethe’s hair is depicted as being quite frizzy, whilst the actual lock of hair appears to be straight. Yet, in the chalk drawing by Karl Christian von Vogelstein (1824), Goethe is depicted with much straighter hair (see Figure 5). Vogelstein’s sketch of Goethe is not as flattering as Sebbers’ and Kiprensky’s portraits. Goethe is depicted with large, liquid eyes and a prominent nose. Depending on the artist, Goethe’s appearance will differ. Overall, considering the three portraits, there are features which do bear resemblance to the sketched portrait. Therefore, the unknown artist of the sketched portrait may have been inspired by other, contemporary portraits of Goethe.

Figure 5: Chalk drawing by Karl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1824) Schaeffer’s Goethes Aussere Erscheinung 1914: pl 60

At the start of this post, I mentioned Lahnemann’s observations regarding the hair as if it were a relic of a saint. Johannes Falk and his daughter may have intended the lock to be revered as something holy and immortal. This appears to be a sentiment that Taylor librarians have also shared. 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 (at present!) kept in the rare book room at the library. It has never been taken out of its frame, nor separated from the crushed violet or sketched portrait.

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.

Our obsession with Goethe continues.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my colleagues at the Taylor Katie Day, Emma Huber and Nick Hearn- for their assistance. Thank you for lending me notes and forwarding some very interesting email chains.

Thank you Professor Henrike Lahnemann and Susan Halstead for your intriguing interpretations surrounding the lock of hair.

References

Eckermann, Johann Peter. 1839. Conversations with Goethe in the last years of his life. Hilliard, Gray, and company: Boston. Translated from the German by Margaret Fuller.

Schaeffer, Emil. 1914. Goethes Aussere Erscheinung. Insel-Verlag: Leipzig

http://www.online-literature.com/goethe/

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/f/faust-parts-1-and-2/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe-biography

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/01/design-for-living-books-adam-kirsch

https://www.fembio.org/english/biography.php/woman/biography/charlotte-buff-kestner/

https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/648

‘WHY DIGITISE?’: A TRAINEE’S PERSPECTIVE ON GETTING COLLECTIONS OUT OF THE STACKS AND ONTO THE INTERNET


As part of my traineeship at the Weston Library, I’m undertaking a project to improve access to the Broxbourne collection—some 4000 items, including 2000 specimens of fine binding from the 12th to 20th centuries, donated by John Ehrman in 1978 in memory of his father, Albert Ehrman. The project has two major objectives: capturing high-quality images of these excellent examples of bookbinding, making them available online on a public platform; and writing the copy-specific notes for each book in ALEPH (our library management software) so that they are searchable on SOLO. To date, over 350 books and their descriptions are available on the Bodleian Rare Books Flickr page.

The latest batch of uploads (the capture process is always evolving) clock in at around 100MB per photo, and are available for download in high resolution. From elaborate Grolieresque gold-tooled bindings to outstanding examples of blind-stamped religious panels from England and the Netherlands, the Flickr platform is so far a visual success. This is due (in no small part) to the nature of the collection: Albert Ehrman amassed one of the greatest collections of fine bindings in Britain. Many possess fascinating provenances, such as a presentation copies (Broxb. 24.3, bound for Robert Dudley with his bear-and-ragged-staff emblem, comes to mind), or even a book whose boards have been hollowed out to house a dead man’s will (Broxb. 14.8). Some exceptionally beautiful items include embroidered bindings (typically executed to a pattern, but unique each time), books with painted enamel plates (Broxb. 12.16), and several fine Louvain ‘Spes’ panels.

 

Detail from Broxb. 26.3 (‘Consonantiæ Iesu Christi’) showing a ‘Lucretia’ panel, which often accompanies the ‘Spes’ (‘Hope’) panel. The panel is Dutch, mid 16th century, blind-tooled onto brown calf.

 

At the start of my traineeship, I loved books and appreciated a good binding, but was inexperienced in describing them, let alone in recognising ‘sixteenth century Saxon pigskin, rebacked’. Even the best compendia of bookbindings rely strongly on an informed readership, taking for granted many bibliographic terms and descriptions. Six months ago, when I began my traineeship, I had no idea what most of these things meant. The Flickr project has been a revelation, providing visual reference-points for these often complicated descriptions—and I hope that it will be useful to others in this way, too.

Nevertheless, even the copious eye-candy that digitising provides does not make a collection ‘accessible’. Our Flickr platform is designed to complement—not replace—the proper catalogue records (no matter how good it might look!). Physically, these books are still located in the Weston Library’s vast underground stacks, sitting in grey conservation-grade boxes. This isn’t to say that Broxbourne has been underappreciated (it hasn’t, and great studies of bookbinding have been written about it) but we want them to be found by anyone, not just the specialist who already knows where to look. Albert Ehrman’s books are a highly valuable scholarly resource which can contribute to research not only about bindings, but also into the book trade, ownership, art and cultural taste, and so on. To that end, all the information they contain must be findable as metadata in the Bodleian’s library catalogue. Writing copy-specific descriptions for these books continues the work of the incomparable Paul Morgan, who compiled the card index to Broxbourne in the 1980s, and is a matter of putting in all the valuable information (such as its country of binding, time period, material, style, provenance, and bibliographic references) to transform the findability of our records. Here’s a Broxbourne record, with all the new bibliographic data highlighted in yellow:

 

 

Before, there were no descriptive elements; anyone looking for ‘lions rampant’ would have missed Broxb 28.6. The metadata simply wasn’t there. It’s a bit dramatic—but not too much of a stretch—to say that a significant amount of Ehrman’s collection, beyond the really famous stuff, would have gone to waste. And that’s only if you know what you’re looking for!

Another, major advantage to taking libraries into online spaces is the ability to share resources and research. Even in these early stages of the Broxbourne project, we’ve been enabled to bolster our own records (and even challenge assumptions written about binders in the bibliographic canon) thanks to other projects—notably the British Library Bookbindings Database, Philippa Marks’ exemplar after which many decisions about my own project have been modelled. The short version of one of our best discoveries is that Broxb. 24.4 was bound by the ‘Salel’ binder not Etienne Roffet—a discovery that would not have been possible without digitised resources (see below).

I would encourage anyone with a manageable selection of books, especially fine bindings, to consider creating a digital collection. In this, I’m guilty of propping up a bad habit of ignoring trade bindings and cheaper books, but, as is widely known, finer books are more likely to survive (and carry their artistry, provenance, waste paper, marginalia, and all manner of treasures with them). As a teaching resource they have great potential to provoke an interest in materiality and histories; as topics of academic research there is great benefit to a system that allows straightforward and immediate side-by-side comparison (not in the least because many are too fragile to handle regularly). And they’re even nice to look at on a rainy afternoon at home, when a global supervirus threatens life as we know it.


Follow the Broxbourne Project here.

 

Collage of the Salel binder’s work, showing (i) Broxb. 24.4; (ii) Esmerian 66, from a digitised page of the ‘Bibliothèque Raphaël Esmerian’; and (iii) Davis229, the British Library copy. Matching tooling errors allowed us to confirm the binder.

 

 

Interesting Finds at our Libraries

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!

Augustine’s Confessions: Madeleine Ahern (Taylor Institution Library)

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. Approaching the book as an object of material history, I’ve made some interesting discoveries about its provenance, a journey that may even have brought me from Oxford all the way back to Nova Scotia, Canada, where my love of history, and of books, first began.

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 9in 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.

 

Bibliography:

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)

Who Owns The Future?

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:

The gilded cover of the book
A message from the author to a Mr and Mrs Bradbury

 

The author’s illustration of the Temple of Luxor

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.

 

Do you see what I see? Rhiannon Hartwell and Alison Maloney attempting to ‘free-view’ a pair of stereographs. (Photograph courtesy of Evie Brown).

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!

Just a man and his walrus… Photograph by Frank Haes. Originally published by the Council of the Zoological Society of London. Pictured above is the stereoscopic viewer included in Wonders of the Stereoscope.

 

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.

 

Goethe’s Hair?!: Chloe Bolsover (Taylor Institution Library)

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.

Goethe’s hair, framed with sketched portrait and violet. The English envelope features on top.

 

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.

Lithograph by Grevedon after the lost drawing by Kiprinsky (1823) Schaeffer’s Goethes Aussere Erscheinung 1914: pl 59

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!

 

 

LGBTQ+ Month @ the Sainsbury Library

February is LGBTQ+ month and I’ve been putting together a display to celebrate LGBTQ+ in business for the Sainsbury Library. As always happens when digging into it, the past has proven more lively, varied, and knit with the present than expected. The pace of change is remarkable even knowing to expect it, and over the three decades covered here it is also mostly positive change. I hope you find it inspires you a little as it does me.

The books are presented as a timeline from left to right.

Top Row (1990s):

1991 – The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life – Kenneth J. GergenSocial psychologist Kenneth J. Gergen is an example of academic ally-ship whose work at the start of the 1990s is as sophisticated as current ideas in its approach to LGBTQ+ issues. Although not an overtly queer work, The Saturated Self constructs a theory of modern identity that makes room for and obliges the legitimacy of LGBTQ+ identities. His work on The Social Construction and The Transformation of Identity Politics was also remarkably prescient in 1999 about where the discourse around these questions would go and how it would change in the subsequent two decades.

1994 – Ivan Massow’s Gay Finance Guide. In the UK during the 1990s Ivan Massow was able to use both a new, growing acceptance of homosexuals in  public life and their continued stereotyping to his advantage. His London advisory firm completely changed the conversation around gay clients in the insurance industry, who during the AIDs epidemic were being shut out by discriminatory premiums. Off the back of this success he entered politics, shocking many of his left-leaning clientele by calling the Conservative party “the gayest party in Europe”, and was determined to change it from within. While he was briefly close to the Thatcher leadership, by the early 2000s his business was in danger of collapse and Massow agreed to become an agent for Zurich. The legal fall-out after Massow claimed Zurich refused to cover most of his clients almost bankrupted him.

1995 – The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender – Martine Rothblatt. Rothblatt is the founder and chairwoman of the board of United Therapeutics, making her the highest earning CEO in the biopharmaceutical industry. Written the year after Rothblatt’s gender reassignment surgery and as a prelude to beginning her PhD in medical ethics with a  specialisation in xenotransplantation, The Apartheid of Sex not only argued for a continuum of gender from both biological and sociological grounds before the idea gained public prominence but also laid the groundwork for Rothblatt’s current radical arguments for high levels of financial and social investment in transhumanism.

1997 – Homo Economics: Capitalism, Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life – Amy Gluckman and Betsy ReedGluckman and Reed’s Homo Economics was the first thorough account of the relationship between gay people and the market. Drawing on experts in journalism, activism, academia, the arts, and public policy, it fully contextualised the state of mixed progress contemporary LGBTQ+ groups find themselves in as well as highlighting its fragility, demonstrating how both the continuation of modern capitalism in its current form and the looming threats of reduced social investment frustrate the LGBTQ+ movement in different ways.

2000 – Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to the Market – Alexandrea Chasin. Selling Out is an accessible, personal, agitative work that blends the academic and vox pop elements of works like Homo Economics and charted what effect the “embrace” of consumerism and capital was having on the LGBTQ+ community. An associate professor of literary studies at The Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts, Chasin charts what had been gained and what had been lost in the mainstreaming of the LGBTQ+ movement, as well as what she feared and hoped might happen in the coming decade.

Middle Row (2000s):

2002 – The Pink Pages: The Gay and Lesbian Business and Services DirectoryAs with numerous previous marginalised groups, the LGBTQ+ community created guides to allow safe navigation through a world that was inherently hostile to them. As acceptance grew, a flurry of travel guides appeared in more public forms. Acting as the name suggests (a Yellow Pages for the queer community) The Pink Pages still operates as a list of ally tradespeople. Now replaced by pinkpagesonline and similar sites, this 2002 copy of the directory was the only print edition.

2005 – Business Not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market – Katherine Sender. In this work Katherine Sender, a professor in the Department of Communication and the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Cornell University, refutes two major pieces of conventional wisdom in this work. 1 – that the LGBTQ+ community exists independently of how it is marketed to, and 2 – that LGBTQ+ marketing exists independently of political action around that community. Sender shows how marketing as a form of media has helped construct the community as well as increased visibility for its members, while also inherently creating restrictions in its definition.

2006 – The G Quotient – Kirk Snyder. As inclusion and diversity of all kinds was gaining ground not just as a political and moral orientation but also as a strength of modern teams, Kirk Snyder followed up his 2003 Career Guide for the Gay Community with this work arguing that gay men were making the best managers precisely because their gay lives meant they understood inclusion and diversity best. Snyder’s work is focused around what the business community can learn from the LGBTQ+ community to change itself, rather than change them.

2008 – Queer Economics, A Reader – Joyce Jacobsen and Adam ZellerJacobsen and Zeller’s collection of academic works includes extracts from Homo Economics, recontextualised a decade later. Queer Economics presents the results of that intellectual provocation, and its movement into areas of demography, labour markets, consumer representation, political economy, and economic history.

2008 – Opportunities and Challenges of Workplace Diversity: Theory, Cases and Exercises – Kathryn A Cañas. Cañas began editing Opportunities and Challenges of Workplace Diversity in 2008 and new editions were produced until 2014. Cañas works as a member of the Management Department in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, where she has helped shape the department since 1999, incorporating changes in attitudes towards diversity including towards the LGBTQ+ community. Opportunities and Challenges has been a core-text internationally for courses in Diversity, Organizational Behavior, and Human Resource Management Diversity and the Workplace.

Lower Row (2010s):

2014 – The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business – John Browne. Browne was chief executive of BP between 1995 and 2007 and was known as the “sun king” by employees due to BP’s increased interest in renewables under his leadership. Having started his career as an apprentice with BP in 1966, his time as it’s CEO ended acrimoniously when allegations were printed in 2007 by the Mail on Sunday that he had mis-used company funds to support a partner during and after their relationship. Having fought injunctions to stop the allegations being published, Browne resigned. He described later that what “terrified” him was not the financial scandal or potential early retirement, but that his sexuality would become public knowledge. By the time he wrote The Glass Closet Browne was advocating for a wide-spread, top-down corporate policy of LGBTQ+ inclusiveness as proposed by Snyder in 2006.

2015 – Queer Business: Queering Organisation Sexualities – Nick Rumens. Queer Business took the thoroughly business-minded approach of seeing opportunity in problems. He identifies that, despite the developments over the past 25 years, there is a continued lack of association between business studies and LGBTQ+ issues when compared to other areas of scholarship, but argues that there are potential positives to this situation. Rumens describes management and organisational studies as a field in which queer theory may make new advances, and as an area where it “has yet to become exhausted and clichéd”.

2016 – Inclusive Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Developing and Executing an Impactful Diversity and Inclusion Strategy – Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick. Charlotte Sweeney Associates launched in 2012 as inclusion, diversity, and equality consultant specialists, following a 20-year career in the finance sector for Sweeney. Fleur Bothwick is Director of Diversity and Inclusion at multinational firm Ernst & Young. She received an OBE in 2013 for services to Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. Sweeney received the same in 2017 for services to Women and Equalities. A follow-up to Inclusive Leadership, which won the Chartered Management Institute’s Book of the Year 2016, is expected in 2020.

2019 – Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level – Leander Kahney. Tim Cook is routinely cited as the most powerful LGBTQ+ leader in business. In 2014 he was the first Fortune 500 chief executive to come out as gay – a remarkable contrast to Browne’s experience just 7 years prior. While before coming out Cook was not overt in his support of the LGBTQ+ struggle, he has since admitted that in valuing his privacy he “was valuing it too far above what I could do for other people, so I wanted to tell everyone my truth” and ensure LGBTQ+ youth knew that he had relied on the work of people who had fought for their rights before him.

2019 – The Queering of Corporate America: How Big Business Went from LGBT Adversary to Ally – Carlos A. BallCovering street protests and boycotts during the 1970s, AIDS activism directed at pharmaceutical companies in the 1980s, and the push for corporate non-discrimination policies and domestic partnership benefits in the 1990s, Ball describes how LGBTQ+ activism has changed the business community’s understanding and treatment of the queer community. This is the current way the history of these two groups is being described and it’s vital to consider it in context of the works that have preceded it.

 

For more information about the month’s celebrations visit https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/

Construction Work at the Law Library – News!

During my weekly late shift in the Law Library I am able to get a sense of the quietness that would usually be a constant presence here. However most of the time instead of hearing the telltale rustling of books and tapping of keyboards associated with students hard at work, we have been subject to drilling and banging going on above us as a team of builders work hard to install our new roof. Currently the large scaffolding structure holding up the temporary roof takes up the majority of the space in our main reading room, with part of it covered in lovely yellow health and safety approved covering. We have definitely made the most of having scaffolding, as a few have been subjected to feature tinsel as the Law Library gets into the festive spirit.

In a nutshell these works are taking place because the roof needs some TLC. The structure of the roof is being replaced to allow for better ventilation, better rainwater drainage and better lighting in general. Even though the scaffolding is a prominent feature, we have still welcomed many readers over the course of Michaelmas term, most of whom were not too fazed by what was going on above them. However, there is no denying that the drilling and banging of building work can put people a bit on edge, and this probably contributed to the high volume of ear plugs taken from the box on our Enquiry Desk daily (again – suitably decorated in the festive spirit.)

 

So far the project seems to be going ok (except when our lovely British autumn weather decides to get in the way) with a new phase of the project having started in November on rebuilding the roof structure. I am definitely looking forward to April when the new roof is finally in place as myself and Laura (the other trainee here at the Law Bod) have only ever known the reading room encased in scaffolding.

For more information, follow the Law Bod renovations page here: http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/lawbod/renovations/

Or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates.

UK Web Archive “Mini” Conference

Based at The British Library and officially a collaborative effort between all six legal deposit libraries, UKWA has been at work since 2005, although their scope and reach have expanded since then and have records going back to 1996, even if their team is still small for such an encompassing endeavour. To put that in perspective, the World Wide Web only came into existence as a publicly accessible network in 1990. Jason Webber, the team lead, tries not to worry too much about those intervening six years, although you can tell that if anyone had that data he’d want UKWA to incorporate it.

In 2013 UKWA made their first full annual trawl of everything that could be considered a UK public website. That’s millions of websites, billions of individual assets, and hundreds of terabytes of data every year, and it’s growing all the time. They don’t get anything private, no emails, nothing from behind a log-in, and the rise in streaming is proving a challenge, but everything they do get is captured to look and work just as it did when it was live. Jason is keen to make it clear they do their best, but there may still be bad links here and there in the vast amount of data they process, and some websites, retail especially, are too much to handle in their complete form. “We collect a representative sample of the UK web space” is the line they’re comfortable with for now.

The event which myself and Hannah attended on November 4th was described as a “mini” conference, and with only maybe 30 to 40 delegates it’s not an inaccurate name. The whole UKWA team consists of eight people, four technical and four curatorial staff. This small staffing means that for all their efforts there are still difficulties accessing the archive, and, along with legal deposit restrictions, that there’s a major limit on what’s possible in terms of Big Data analysis and research. Most collected websites are only accessible in legal deposit libraries. The website for BUDDAH (Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities), as presented by Prof. Jane Winters from the University of London, summarises the current situation in most fields best:

Despite the limitations, improvements to the user interface are a top priority at UKWA. There’s hope that as the archive “becomes history” and its relevance grows that increased interest will see increased use and development. The achieve was able to save a database of Conservative party speeches that was otherwise removed from public domain back in 2013 while the privately organised Internet Archive was blocked from doing so (UKWA had its legal obligation to gather the data to protect it). 90% of UKWA is no longer live, so instances like this are likely to occur more often in the future – their Brexit collection is already seeing higher traffic than previous curations and holds evidence of the notorious bus-pledge on the Vote Leave campaign’s website.

More events of this kind are planned and it’s evident the UKWA team want to see the project grow. Presentations by researchers at the mini-con showed the breadth of what the archive can be used for. Public assistance also helps – archiving a website is an option for anyone and can be done easily and rapidly at https://www.webarchive.org.uk/en/ukwa/info/nominate Sites like this one with a “.uk” domain are atuomatically included, but anything else requires nomination. Don’t hold back – as the team made sure we were aware, every website matters.

Behind the Scenes: Shadowing and Hosting between a Bodleian Library and a College Library

This year, many Graduate Library Trainees expressed an interest in shadowing a fellow trainee from another Oxford library. Colleagues from Bodleian Staff Development worked to facilitate this and fortunately Leanne and I were able to spend an afternoon at one another’s workplace. Leanne is the Graduate Library Trainee at Christ Church (ChCh), one of Oxford University’s largest colleges, while I’m the trainee at the Radcliffe Camera, home to the Bodleian’s History Faculty Library (HFL).

Christ Church’s Main Library Building
View of the Radcliffe Camera from the University Church

The nature of each traineeship can vary considerably depending on the remit of the library, its size and the nature of its collections. These differences are magnified when the logistical and operational nuances distinct to each library are accounted for. Shadowing at another library provides an opportunity to experience these differences in context, to consider some of the factors impacting other library services and to critically reflect on the practices of the libraries we normally work in.

After our afternoons of shadowing were over, we decided to write a joint blog post to recount our experiences, using a Q and A as the basis for encapsulating our opinions. Suffice to say we had fun!

Christ Church Library and Bodleian Library Stamps next to each other in the same book.

Why did you want to shadow at the library you chose?

Ross Jones, History Faculty LibraryHaving spent the majority of my time working and studying in the Bodleian Libraries, I welcomed the opportunity to experience the day to day goings-on of a college library; I wanted to learn about the parameters a college library was expected to operate within and how this might affect the services they are able to provide. Given the familial nature of a college environment, I was also eager to discover what kind of learning cultures a more insular and exclusive library service helps to inspire.

Leanne Grainger, Christ Church Library: As a trainee in a college library I was keen to shadow a trainee within the Bodleian Libraries to find out how the experience differs in a larger library team as well as within the larger Bodleian Libraries’ structure.

What were your first impressions of the library?

Ross says: Friendly and ambitious. Oxford is saturated with historic buildings and architecture of seemingly every kind. This has led me, albeit guiltily, to become a tad indifferent to the awesome facades boasted by the libraries of many of the older Oxford colleges. To me, the most impressive feature of a library is the service it provides and I was struck first and foremost by the welcoming personalities of Christ Church’s library staff and the grand designs they had for improving their service.

Leanne says: Grand. Iconic. Busy – especially considering it was vacation! The History Faculty Library  is currently situated in the Radcliffe Camera, a well-known landmark in Oxford, which is beautiful both inside and out. Even though I was shadowing Ross during the vacation it seemed pretty busy and I imagine it is an extremely popular study space within Oxford.

The Lower Camera Reading Room at the HFL.

What did you find to be different in comparison to your own library?

Ross says: The book-request service. Having secured a generous budget for purchasing, one of Christ Church College Library’s many strengths is its ability to provide students a significant stake in its Collection Development Policy by allowing them, in a sense, to build a reader-curated collection. If a student needs it and the library doesn’t have it, you can be sure a copy will be bought (within reason of course!). I was amazed to learn that the record time for fulfilling a request was just a matter of hours, with staff going above and beyond to deliver the requested item to the reader at their desk.

Leanne says: That anyone with a reader’s card can use the library!  It has a diverse range of readers to cater for, and even has a section of the library that is a laptop free zone for readers to use to get away from the noise of keyboard tapping! As a college, the library is predominantly only for our own students and has no where near as many readers. With a larger team at the HFL, Ross covers the front desk on a rota, usually about 3 hours a day, which is quite a lot less than the half day if not the whole day I usually work at the front desk!  A bigger team also seemed to mean that everybody has particular roles and responsibilities, whereas I find I get to do a bit of everything. The HFL also seemed to not be as involved in acquisitions and cataloguing as at ChCh, as these are done centrally within Bodleian Libraries.

What did you find to be the same in comparison to your own library?

Ross says: The day to day challenges of working in an 18th century building. Where spiral staircases and galleries abound there will invariably be a multitude of issues with running a modern library service. Facilitating access for mobility-impaired readers, shelving in precarious positions and struggling with antique furniture and fixtures were all too familiar aspects of library work at Christ Church.

The spiral staircase in the East Library at Christ Church

Leanne says: I feel like I can only think of more differences! However, it was fascinating when similarities popped up. Redirecting tourists at the front desk, rather packed lost property shelves and a Library of Congress classification system were all very familiar! A lot of the routine tasks such as the processing of books felt similar too. The book covering in particular, with book sleeves for dust covers and lamination of paperbacks (but I’d highly recommend commando covers!).

What aspects of shadowing did you enjoy?

Ross says: The variety of environments. With Christ Church boasting an upper and lower library, a separate 24-hour Law library, the Allestree Library, a variety of rare book rooms and an archive room hidden away at the top of a tower, it’s a wonder Leanne and the rest of the team manage to keep on top of it all! With everything as spaced out as it is, I imagine resources are stretched pretty thin at times, but having a backstage pass to it all for the day made for a truly enchanting experience.

Christ Church’s Upper Library as viewed from the Gallery

Leanne says: I really enjoyed exploring the space and learning about the HFL being a library within a library – the HFL doesn’t own the space it’s in, the Bodleian does! This has drawbacks in terms of having space to expand into, which is a huge issue even for libraries with their own space. There is overlapping of the HFL collections and the Bodleian Library collections in the Gladstone Link, which is underneath the Radcliffe Camera and between the two libraries, which was interesting to get my head around! I enjoyed getting to be a part of the daily delivery of books from the off-site store at Swindon, there are some interesting things that get delivered. I also like that I was able to process a new book that now has its shelfmark written inside in my handwriting.

Overlap of collections in the Upper Camera (HFL books on the left and Bodleian books on the right) .

What benefits do you feel are unique to the trainee role of the library you visited?

Ross says: As Leanne says, working at a college library tends to involve a little bit of everything. At the History Faculty Library, where roles are more compartmentalised, my main focus is Reader Services and this means chances to work with bibliographic records are few and far between. At Christ Church, Leanne often creates and edits holdings records, which is a useful transferable skill to have when it comes to pursuing a career in libraries!

Leanne says: The trainee project that Ross has taken on this year I feel highlights a unique aspect to the HFL – that it is a subject specific library in History. Ross is looking into improving the provision and accessibility of the History set texts, which I think is a useful and transferable experience. For example, Ross has carried out a survey of the students who need to use these texts to find out more about how and if they use them. I especially feel that the most unique feature of being a trainee at the HFL is it being a library within a library. Learning to navigate the different collections of a shared library space and getting to observe and learn how those collections an d that space is managed I think will be uniquely valuable experience.

What ideas or procedures might you think about implementing in your own library after visiting?

Ross says: Minor cosmetic changes to improve the readability of shelf marks. The library staff at Christ Church have used an ongoing reclassification project as an opportunity to trial some simple and effective ideas to improve the browsing experiences of readers. In retro converting the classification sequences in the lower library to Library of Congress, staff at Christ Church have decided to print out shelf mark labels on yellow stickers rather than white ones to aid those readers with dyslexia or Irlen syndrome. They also print their labels so that the first line of each shelf mark will appear at the same height on each book spine, regardless of how many cutter numbers a shelf mark might have. This makes it easier to follow the sequence along the shelf. Every little helps!

A shelf of books with their new Library of Congress shelfmark labels at ChCh.

Leanne says: At Christ Church Library we are already looking into using the bindery where Ross sends worn books to be rebound. I talked to my Librarians about the system that Ross uses to regularly send books that are in need of TLC to the bindery and we’re now looking to adopt a similar strategy to be more efficient with our rebinding budget. Talking to Ross about his trainee project has also inspired and motivated me to look into improving the promotion and visibility of collections that are particularly important to students, including the accessibility equipment we provide.

A shelf of newly rebound books at the HFL, fresh from the bindery.

Can you describe the library you visited in one word?

Ross says: Wonderful

Leanne says: Matryoshka

The OxCam College Librarians’ Biennial Conference, Pt. I.

(The following is part one of a two-part blog post on the 2019 OxCam Librarians’ Biennial Conference. It features individual recollections of the day’s events, kindly contributed by some of the Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees in attendance.)

The 2019 OxCam College Librarians’ Biennial Conference, hosted by Worcester College, Oxford, took place on the 19th March in the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre. The event provided an opportunity to share ideas and updates on developments currently impacting the library services of Oxford and Cambridge University colleges. An exhibition space had been set up in the conference centre’s anteroom, allowing delegates the chance to network throughout the day with representatives from numerous organisations, including Cambridge University Press, Temple Bookbinders, Blackwell’s, and Gresswell. Upon arrival, attendees were given a welcome pack which included a programme of proceedings, some helpful maps and floor plans, a register of delegates and, of course, a complimentary bookmark.

A pictorial map of Worcester College, Oxford.
A map of Worcester College, Oxford, included in the welcome pack.

The day was divided into five sessions, two of which were the morning and afternoon plenary sessions, comprised of talks on mental ill-health in the workplace, the Cambridge Information Literacy Network, and a case study on Balliol’s Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue the Nicholas Crouch Collection.

Images of the books constituting the Nicholas Crouch Collection.
A sample of the Nicholas Crouch Collection, since catalogued by Balliol College Library staff.

The first talk on mental ill-health in the workplace, delivered by Dan Holloway, was warmly received by the delegation and provided a positive, constructive foundation for the day ahead. Jenna, Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian Law Library (BLL) details the conference’s opening prelection:

‘Dan Holloway’s presentation was the first of the day, and he set a really good tone for the remainder of the conference by delivering a very thoughtful and open talk which conveyed important information in an informal and accessible way. Dan ran through some of the issues contributing to and exasperating mental ill-health in the work place; he considered the things we can do to aid workers with mental health difficulties and to break down stigmas, using facts and statistics alongside experiences from his own mental health story.’

After a round of informative and thought-provoking presentations, breakout sessions ran contiguous to the morning’s plenary session. The Graduate Library Trainees were asked to attend a special session led by Eleanor Kelly of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Ross Jones, Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian History Faculty Library, recounts his experience in the passage below:

‘The Graduate Trainee Special Session took place in the Smethurst Studio and served as a platform for sharing our experiences as library trainees. In all, a total of twenty trainees attended, including a party of six from Cambridge University colleges.

Discussions opened with a brief ice-breaker exercise in which we were asked to share our name and our place of work with the group. We were also asked to describe our respective libraries in one word – ‘accommodating’, ‘comfortable’, ‘warm’ and ‘antiquated’ were some examples. After a round of introductions, Eleanor organised us all into five smaller groups and prompt sheets were circulated to guide conversation towards specific talking points. These points centred on aspects of our experiences such as the skills we’d attained, any accomplishments we’d achieved, the challenges we’d faced, and the types of library work we were involved in. I think structuring the conversation in this way helped to determine the significance of any similarities or contrasts that stemmed from working in different libraries.

Towards the end of the session, the group I was in broached the possibility of applying for postgraduate courses in library-related fields and discussed whether it was preferable to enrol as a full-time or part-time student. We also speculated which career paths might suit us best in the future. It was equal parts interesting and reassuring to hear from my compeers about the various activities trainees were involved with day to day; despite the differences, it seems inevitable that every trainee will, at one point, find themselves book processing, adhering bookplates and spine labels to new acquisitions!’

Once the morning breakout sessions had concluded, the delegation broke for lunch in Worcester College Hall. It was a hurried affair as visits to an Oxford archive, museum or college library were scheduled to run concurrently in the early afternoon. Natasha, one of the visiting trainees from Pembroke College, Cambridge, reflects on her tour of the Queen’s College Library in the passage below:

‘After lunch we split into groups for one of the most anticipated parts of the day, the library visits, and the Queen’s College Library did not disappoint. Amanda Saville, the Librarian, raced through the College and Library’s histories before letting us into the Upper Library.

A photograph of the Queen's College Library's Upper Library with orreries in the central passage.
The Upper Library of the Queen’s College.

This space is the oldest part of the Library and it remains open as a student study area. A staircase connects it to the Lower Library which houses much of the modern teaching collection and before the extension the shelves were full. The New Library is the most recent extension and it opened in 2017. Hidden beneath the Provost’s Garden, it allowed the library to expand and houses the special collections and archives in a secure and environmentally controlled storeroom. Multiple new reading rooms allow for better access to the special collections and cater to a wider range of student needs. It was great seeing how popular the New Library is, even in the vacation, and how well Amanda’s team did in supporting their users throughout the different Library spaces.’

Meanwhile, Bethan, a trainee at the Old Bodleian Library, was among those visiting Exeter College’s Cohen Quad. Elaborating on her experience, she says:

‘I was given the chance to visit Exeter College’s Cohen Quad which contained a purpose-built facility for the College Library’s Special Collections. William Morris is a notable alumnus of Exeter, and some of his possessions were donated to the college. This included his many pipes and a lock of his hair. We were shown an array of artefacts, including books produced by Morris’s printing house, Kelmscott Press; there was a beautifully illustrated edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which apparently is the original ‘Kelmscott Chaucer’ and belonged to Morris himself.

The Special Collections Librarian showed us the new facility which houses the collections and archives. This included the colour-coded rolling stacks and a purpose-built metal gate used to keep the rarest items secure. She discussed the logistics of moving over 30,000 rare books and manuscripts to the site and the challenges she faced in the process.  The collections themselves were originally held in poor conditions, so each item had to be individually cleaned and restored before being moved. There was time afterwards for questions and a brief discussion about the promotion of Special Collections.’

Amy, Graduate Trainee at the Howard Piper Library of St Hugh’s College, visited the library at Worcester College and describes the tour here:

‘Mark Bainbridge, the Librarian of Worcester College, was our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide. I think I can safely say everyone in our group had a very pleasant visit. We first climbed up an eighteenth century cantilevered spiral staircase with over 60 steps to reach the modern (upper) library, which was created in the twentieth century. It is open 24/7 and holds 65,000 volumes across two levels. These are all digitally catalogued and can be borrowed via a self-service machine. The card catalogue was discontinued in February 2006, but is still available for consultation. They acquire around 1,000 books each year and have approximately 6 years of space left before the library is full, although there is some weeding to be done which should give them a little more time. The first professional librarian to work here introduced an in-house classification system in the 1960s, which is still used today.

A photograph of the issue desk in Worcester College's more modern upper library.
The Upper Library at Worcester College.

Naturally the highlight of our visit was the handsome Lower Library, completed in 1736. Most of the shelves hold Dr George Clarke’s large bequest of books, manuscripts, prints and drawings, a great deal of which are not digitally catalogued. Sadly, we did not get to walk along the gallery, but we were a big group so this probably was not feasible. The Lower Library is open from 8am until midnight each day. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular place for students to work, so much so that they have to set out modern desks and chairs during particularly busy periods.

A photograph of the early-modern lower library of Worcester College, including busts and galleries.
The Lower Library at Worcester College.

The library team had kindly selected and displayed a few interesting items for us to view in a small room next to the Lower Library…’

A photo of Inigo Jones' copy of Andrea Palladio's 'I Quattro Libri Dell Architettura' on display.
Andrea Palladio, I Quattro Libri Dell Architettura. Venice, 1601. (Inigo Jones’s Copy)

Across town, Jenna (BLL) and Eva of Newnham College, Cambridge, were welcomed into the grounds of Oxford University’s largest college, Christ Church. In detailing their experiences, they recount the awesome purlieus and inspiring collections of the college library.

Eva:

‘It is futile to try to describe the overwhelming grandeur of Christ Church and its libraries in terms of beauty. An oddball of my generation, I am not a big fan of photographing things, preferring to just experience events and commit them to memory. The whistle stop tour of Christ Church library however had me almost instinctively reaching for my iPhone and snapping away unashamedly with the crowd around me.’

Jenna:

‘The visit to Christ Church library began with a small introduction to the college and the library by the College Librarian, Steven Archer, in Tom Quad with assistance from Emma Sillett who is the Reader Services Librarian. The grounds of the college are impressive – Tom Quad being the biggest quad of all the colleges – and you can see why Christ Church has a reputation for being one of the grandest colleges in Oxford. We then walked through the cloisters to what is actually the ‘New’ Library, which was completed in 1772 as a result of the Old Library becoming so full that they had to build another building to accommodate the amount of books that were being donated.’

Eva:

‘What was striking about the New Library was how spacious and accommodating the surroundings felt, as well as elegant. The silence felt hushed as opposed to suffocating. It was as though the prestige of the college’s history and status created an atmosphere of inspiration, rather than intimidation.’

Jenna:

‘The Library’s reading rooms are on the ground floor of the New Library, which holds the working collection, and is a pleasant mix of antiquated and classical design with beautiful iron spiral staircases and wooden shelving, contrasting with white columns and domed archways. I really enjoyed seeing students using the reading rooms, which shows that the ground floor is comfortable and accessible for students to borrow and work from.

An image of a reading room at Christ Church College Library
The wrought iron staircase and gallery in Christ Church College Library’s lower reading room.

In contrast to this though, the Upper Library was arresting in its grandeur and the smell of old books – addictive to anyone working in libraries. The upper floor consists of the college’s rare books which are mainly arranged under named shelves referencing the benefactors who bequeathed the collections. This room also holds a large amount of interesting objects, such as a hat which apparently belonged to Cardinal Wolsey and a full horse skeleton which was being used by an anatomy class at Ruskin School of Art.’

Eva:

‘The magnificent upper library, where the special collections are held is overwhelming. Our tour guide and head librarian Steven was at pains to emphasise the main function of the room is for the collections to be used and consulted, and that this was actively encouraged to potentially timid students.’

Jenna:

‘Steven had arranged for items from the college archive to be brought out for us to see, including an illuminated manuscript, one of Elizabeth I’s bibles, the foundation charter of the college, and a photograph album and draft drawings for Alice in Wonderland which belonged to Lewis Carroll who was Sub-Librarian at Christ Church during the second half of the 19th Century.’

An image of Christ Church College's Upper Library, replete with a full horse skeleton.
It’s true! There really is an entire horse skeleton in the Upper Library!

Eva:

‘The literary association with Christ Church that gets most people excited is Harry Potter, its cloisters and staircase having featured as settings for various scenes in the film series. I, however, was far more excited by another fantasy staple of fiction embedded in its history: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To be able to stand in the same spot as Lewis Carroll did, beside his desk, and look out of the window at the ‘Cheshire Cat’s Tree’ was an eerily wonderful moment, as was being able to look at handcrafted figures of the characters made in 1900 and see original sketches Carroll’s brother drew of the book’s illustrations. I doubt I am the first to tour Christ Church and leave feeling rather like Alice.’

Jenna:

‘Overall, it was a really superb and informative tour which was well-structured but also allowed us freedom to explore the dizzying double-height Upper Library ourselves – I feel very lucky to have had such knowledgeable guides in Steven and Emma and I felt very inspired being ‘let loose’ in such a beautiful library.’

See part two of this blog post for details on the afternoon sessions attended by Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees!

 

The OxCam College Librarians’ Biennial Conference Pt. II.

(The following is part two of a two-part blog post on the 2019 OxCam Librarians’ Biennial Conference. It features individual recollections of the day’s events, kindly contributed by some of the Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees in attendance.)

After a busy morning of exhibitions and talks, and an insightful afternoon of visits, the delegation returned to the conference centre for the final few sessions of the day. Our story of events picks up again with Emmy, Graduate Library Trainee at Lady Margaret Hall, and her reflections on the Library Exhibitions On A Budget Session:

‘When we had returned from our lunchtime visits (and of course had a break for tea and plenty of cake) it was time for another breakout session. This time the trainees were spread between the different rooms. I had signed up for a session on how to produce library exhibitions on a budget, led by Victoria Stevens.

As an accredited library and archives conservator, Victoria had lots of experience to share with us! Some of her tips included:

  • Make your own book cradles and Vivak leaflet stands.
  • Think about what story the objects tell, and don’t squash too many of them into your arrangement.
  • If you do have some money to invest, consider purchasing a light logger.
Grey corrugated board being folded on a table top, into the form of a book cradle.
Exhibitions on a budget: folding board to create a book cradle.

Watching practical demonstrations and handling samples of display materials helped me to understand how these can be custom made in the library, as long as we are careful to choose conservation-grade materials. As I am a trainee at a college library, I am lucky enough to work with our small but interesting collection of rare books, so I am excited to try out some of these ideas back at the library.’

In a separate seminar room, Rowan, the trainee at St John’s College, Cambridge, was attending the session ‘Speed Dating with Special Collections’. Co-hosted by colleagues from both universities, the session touched upon the strengths and weaknesses of different outreach strategies in raising the profile of special collections:

‘Julia Walworth, of Merton College, Oxford and Anne McLaughin of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ran a session which allowed participants to all get involved discussing the pros and cons of different special collections outreach strategies. Online initiatives were popular, with many libraries making use of social media to highlight a particular item each month. However, it was raised that the main followers of library Twitter accounts are often other libraries, meaning that other options need to be utilised to engage a variety audiences.  Such strategies, it was suggested, could include regular exhibitions and open days as well as practical workshops. The collaborative nature of the session meant we could learn of strategies that involve those less likely to already be accessing special collections. For example, inviting school groups to use the collections within their curriculum allows early engagement with historical materials, well before university. With all outreach strategies, there is a good deal of planning and preparation that goes into the finished strategy, and this has to be taken into account when deciding what will work best for each library. However, it pays off in the end.’

Meanwhile, Isobel of Queens’ College, Cambridge, had chosen to join the breakout session about fundraising for special collections. Lead by Naomi Tiley, the session helped to elucidate some of the issues inherent in fundraising projects. It also proved a useful introduction to the afternoon plenary session, which considered in detail Balliol College’s Wellcome Trust funded project to reclassify a collection of early modern texts, collated and bequeathed by Nicholas Crouch:

‘I attended two sessions on the topic of fundraising for special collections – a common necessity for many Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The first was a breakout session, run by Naomi Tiley of Balliol College, Oxford, where attendees were encouraged to share their experiences of fundraising, and offer observations and advice for future projects. As a topic outside of my direct experience to date, but very much in line with my personal career aspirations in rare books librarianship, I found the session extremely interesting and informative. It was especially useful to learn about potential funding bodies and application processes within the practical context of real-life projects and planned funding applications.

Following the breakout session, we returned to the main lecture theatre for the final plenary session of the conference. Focusing once again on fundraising for special collections, the presentation explored a case study undertaken by Balliol College, Oxford in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust. Naomi Tiley and James Howarth (Balliol College and St Edmund Hall, Oxford) were engaging speakers; incorporating question-and-answer based dialogues as they took us step by step through their project to secure funding for cataloguing the Nicholas Crouch collection. The session was particularly informative about not only fundraising, but also both in-house and outreach opportunities that can evolve from special collections cataloguing and subsequent improved accessibility.’

As the day’s business drew to a close, all the trainees agreed that the conference had been a thoroughly inspiring day of talks, visits and networking. We all gathered a tremendous amount of practical information from the sessions we attended and took away many new ideas to implement in our current libraries and in the future. As trainees, being able to meet and hear from so many professionals in the field was hugely valuable (as was sharing our library experiences with fellow trainees from ‘the other place’!). Our only regret was that we couldn’t attend all of the breakout sessions, because they all sounded brilliant! Those of us attending as the official delegate for our respective libraries certainly had plenty to report back to our colleagues.

A photograph of most, but not quite all, of the trainees present at the conference, taken in the grounds of Worcester college in front of the conference centre

On behalf of us all, thank you very much to Worcester College for hosting, to all the conference speakers and sponsors, and to the organisers — Liz Kay (Brasenose), Emma Sillett (Christ Church), Diana Hackett (Nuffield), Eleanor Kelly (St. Hilda’s) and Marina Sotiriou (Lincoln).


Contributors:

Amy Douglas – St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Isobel Goodman – Queens’ College, Cambridge

Emmy Ingle – Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

Ross Jones – Bodleian History Faculty Library and Radcliffe Camera

Natasha MacMahon – Pembroke College, Cambridge

Jenna Meek – Bodleian Law Library

Bethan Morgan – Bodleian Library

Rowan Rush-Morgan – St John’s College, Cambridge

Eva Wewiorski – Newnham College, Cambridge

 

 

 

Classification and cat pictures

In a previous post I promised to introduce some new members of the Lady Margaret Hall team: Benny (the college cat) and Beyonce, Michelle and Kelly (the college rabbits) have been doing a wonderful job in their roles supporting welfare in the college. Recently though, there hasn’t been as much grass poking through for them to snack on, as LMH has been covered in snow. This is giving the college a cosy, festive feeling even though we are already halfway through term, so in this post I thought I would give an insight into what went on in the library over the winter vacation. (And of course, there will be some photos of Benny and the LMH bunnies.)

LMH's snow-covered meadow.
The wildflower meadow has been transformed once again, this time into a snow meadow.

While the library might be fairly empty of students over the vacations, there are still plenty of tasks to complete. There are heaps of books hurriedly returned before the end of term, and headphones, socks, and even a pomegranate that have been left behind. But it’s also a chance to catch up on projects that we have less time for during term. Over the recent holidays, this meant an opportunity to start planning and researching the graduate trainee project (which I’m hoping to base around library accessibility issues) as well as an upcoming exhibition showcasing some of our rare books. It also gave me time to make a start on the process of reclassifying a section of the library.

As I have mentioned before, I’m interested in medical knowledge and information, so my supervisor and I decided that it would make sense for me to re-evaluate the healthcare section of the library. As Amy explained in her post, the main part of this process involves analysing books in this section and assigning them a new shelfmark, based on a more current classification framework than they were previously organised by. So what is classification?

Cartoon elf posing in a card catalogue. Subtitles read: 'I love a good subject-based classification system. [chuckles]'
Alfur the paperwork-loving elf from the Hilda comics and Netflix show is a big fan of information classification, but what is it? [Source: Hilda by Luke Pearson]
Classification is a way of organising knowledge. The idea of sorting library materials into classes has been around for centuries – it’s present in the 7th Century BC Library of Ashurbanipal clay tablets – but collections have not always been arranged in the most helpful order. In a modern library, classification systems create a logical layout for browsing, as well as assigning each item a place so it can be easily found. A classification is attached to the item based on its form and contents, and this correlates with its place in the shelving order. The shelfmark or call number can also include other information: publication date, author, title, edition, volume, copy number, height, acquisition number…

There are various systems of classification, and different Oxford libraries use different systems. Some have their own unique system; several others use Library of Congress. Each system has advantages and disadvantages in its usability. Each also derives from its own specific time and place, and therefore reflects cultural ideas about the value of and relationship between areas of knowledge.

Three lop-eared black and brown rabbits grazing grass.
Beyonce, Michelle and Kelly are very happy, attention-loving bunnies with plenty of space to hop around in. Here they are having a chat about their favourite classification systems (probably).

For example, the Library of Congress system, widely used in North American academic libraries, arranges materials in a way that does not reflect Native American and First Nations worldviews or allow for the diversity of these cultures. It also places Native cultures in the ‘History’ section despite these cultures still being present today. Librarians designed Indigenous classification systems in response. Several of these have been adopted in Indigenous collections, such as Brian Deer Classification which was developed by Kanien’kéhaka Mohawk librarian Brian Deer in Canada in the 1970s.

At LMH we use Dewey Decimal Classification, developed by American librarian Melvil Dewey between 1873 and 1876 – but like many libraries we adapt it to our particular needs, and our law collection operates a separate system. As the name suggests, the style of Dewey Decimal uses numbers. Each main class of knowledge is given a ‘hundred’ number, such as the 600s for ‘Technology’ in the 23rd edition of the DDC schedules. Within that, the ‘tens’ are divisions under this umbrella: 630 for ‘Agriculture’, for example. Each of these is broken down further into sections, giving us 636 for ‘Animal husbandry’. At this point, if we wanted to be more specific, we could start to add decimal places. 636.8 is (domestic) ‘Cats’; 636.82 is ‘Shorthair cats’, like Benny.

Black and white kitten looking a bit shy.
Benny D Cat helps LMH’s junior dean in her student welfare role.

However, books that take different approaches to the theme will be in different places: our book on cats in mythology is in number 398, while if Benny wrote an autobiography it might be placed in 920. There are often multiple possible classifications for a book: How broad or close does it need to be? Where should it go if it spans several disciplines? Where would our readers expect to find it? Which of our existing books should it be classed with? And then there are tables allowing further expansion of the number, based on facets like location and time period.

Black and white kitten (Benny) peering out from under a chair.
We’re hoping that Benny might visit the library when he gets used to venturing outside…

To complete the shelfmark, we add the first three letters of the author’s last name, and other fields if necessary. If we had two copies of Benny D Cat’s autobiography, they might be labelled 920 CAT (A) and 920 CAT (B). This new style of shelfmark is another reason why we are reclassifying our collections; previously we arranged items by acquisition number. By arranging by author and year we hope to group and order our materials in a way that helps our readers navigate them. It’s also an opportunity to cover faded shelfmarks with more legible labels, and to weed out old editions of textbooks that are no longer being borrowed.

Plastic skeleton contemplating an empty bookshelf.
Freddie the library skeleton is getting used to the relocations.

Some of the reclassified books are moving to completely different locations, causing a bit of an upheaval in the medical sciences room. But by the time the bunnies are hopping around in the sun again, our skeleton Freddie might be looking less confused about where all the books have gone.