Our names are Anastasia and Mary and we are the new Graduate Trainees for the Social Science Library (commonly known as the SSL).
Anastasia (right)- I have recently finished my M.Phil in Medieval History at Trinity College Dublin and prior to that I worked in university admin at the University of Exeter and received a BA in History at the University of Nottingham. Whilst I have no previous experience working in a library, I spent hundreds of hours in my university libraries as a student and was a frequent visitor of the library services desk, with my endless questions and obscure book queries. Whilst in Dublin I was fortunate to visit a variety of libraries and archives weekly for seminars and I have volunteered in a number of different archives up and down the country . Being a medieval historian I love old documents, artefacts, pretty buildings, and historical facts, so naturally am very excited to be living in Oxford. I love being in a university environment and am looking forward to the variation that this role will provide, where (hopefully) no one day will be the same.
Mary (left)- As it happens, I also studied history at university and am similarly fascinated by all things historical. It was while studying for my degree that I realised how much I (weirdly) enjoyed searching for resources, both through online library catalogues and physically on library shelves. (Sometimes it does feel like detective work!) My library experience before starting the trainee scheme was purely through voluntary work – whilst at university I volunteered at my local public library, then, after a short work experience placement at the Royal Engineers Museum archive, I volunteered once a week at Canterbury Cathedral library for a year. Although the SSL is very different in terms of the building and its collections, the knowledge and skills I learnt through my various experiences have definitely come in useful. Besides which, I love getting a flavour of each different type of library. I am looking forward to helping readers with their enquiries and welcoming new students when term begins – though maybe once I’ve got my head around the library system myself first!
So far in the first few weeks we have done a variety of library activities – ranging from relabelling and processing new books to scanning chapters for reading lists, and from checking and reprinting library shelf signs to watering the plants and blowing up balloons for the open day. We have definitely been making the most of the glorious weather, making the most of our lunch breaks to explore the Botanical Gardens and several of the colleges and museums. It has been an enjoyable, but very busy first few weeks, preparing for when the students arrive in 0th week!
Hi everybody I’m Madeleine, one of two trainees based this year primarily at the Taylor Institution Library with shifts at the Sackler and Oriental Institute as well. I just graduated this spring with my BA Honours degree in History and Art History from Queen’s University in Canada, and after working in archives and museums previously I am now keen to pursue a career in academic librarianship.
Being a trainee at the Taylorian has been wonderful so far in part because of the extensive collections it encompasses. The Western and Eastern European languages, Linguistics, Film Studies, and Women’s Studies collections make for not only a fascinating range of library resources here but also some neat research going on at any minute. Most people gravitate towards our beautiful reading room adjacent to the main research collection stacks it seems!
I am primarily based at the issue desk so far, fielding reader inquiries, doing some book processing, shelving, and most recently preparing for inductions week. A favourite moment of my traineeship so far was when I got to work with Dalí, Matisse, and Picasso prints from the Strachan Artist Book collection all in one afternoon. I am really looking forward to all that is to come this year, in part because of an exciting new Navigation and Wayfinding Project that I am undertaking with my fellow trainee Chloe and a team of librarians across the Taylorian and Sackler to improve reader experience.
Hi my name is Rhiannon (Rhiannon P as we have two Rhiannon’s on this year’s trainee scheme – although luckily not in the same library!) and I will be spending the year working in the Bodleian Law Library. The Bodleian Law Library is based in the St. Cross building on Manor Road, the English Faculty Library is also in this building and next door to us is the Social Science Library, with the old Bodleian Library less than a ten minute walk away. So far in the past two weeks I have spent my time meeting and talking to all the different staff within the Law Library and learning about their areas of expertise. This year there are two trainees at the Law Library, Laura who is based in Information Resources, and myself in Academic Services. Being based in AS means that alongside my usual tasks like shelving and staffing the enquiry desk I am also involved in scanning resources to go online both on our internal page LawBod4Students and for ORLO reading lists.
Before coming to Oxford I was working in a small residential library in North Wales called Gladstone’s Library. In many ways this was great preparation for coming to the Bodleian as every day I spent time on the enquiry desk, helping readers, cataloguing and circulating books and journals, as well as working on specific projects being undertaken at Gladstone’s Library. However, Gladstone’s Library only had 150,000 volumes whereas the Bodleian Law Library has over 550,000 so far more material for me to familiarise myself with over the next year! Before that I had just completed my LLM in International Law at the University of Sussex where I got to visit The Hague and see incredible places like the Peace Palace which is home to numerous bodies of International Law including the International Court of Justice, but most importantly (to me anyway) the Peace Palace Library, an amazing building that holds over a million volumes on International Law. Finally, before that I was doing my BA in History where I spent part of my second year working in an archive, and I enjoyed it so much I then spent the whole of my third year working in the university library.
I am really looking forward to spending a year in Oxford, so far it seems like a fantastic city with lots of things to do and places to visit. I am excited for term to begin and to start seeing the Law Library in full flow, with postgraduate inductions beginning in less than two weeks and undergraduates the week after that. It has been really nice meeting my fellow trainees, we’ve already had a few training sessions together and the drinks reception in the Divinity School was a great way to be welcomed to the Bodleian.
I’m Chloe, and I am currently working as one of the two trainees at the Taylor Institution Library, this year. In the past two weeks, I have been mainly working on the enquiries desk, helping readers find their away around the labyrinth that is the Taylor! Other duties include processing books coming from and returning to the Book Storage Facility in Swindon, shelving, and responding to readers over email and telephone. I am also involved in one of the Navigation and Wayfinding projects taking place this year, where as a team I will be helping to improve reader experience of navigating the Taylor and Sackler Libraries. A challenge, I am sure you will agree, if you have ever been to the Taylor or the Sackler! Alongside Evie, I will be helping to manage the trainee blog, so am welcoming any suggestions and volunteers for blog posts from current trainees.
Before the Taylor…
I have had a bit of a career change, as I was working as an archaeologist before. I worked on numerous sites, many rural and a few urban in Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire. I would say my best find was a fully articulated horse skeleton, which had a human skeleton right next to it! I got very excited, believing it to be a horse and rider burial. As I investigated, though, I realised that the burials were actually separate events, with the horse having been buried before. Such is the life of an archaeologist, as coin hoards and treasure troves are very rare finds, not what Time Team would have you believe!
Before that, I was doing an MA in Classics and Ancient History, as well as volunteering for Exeter Cathedral. There, I assisted with rooftop tours and stewarding. I enjoyed doing extensive research on the cathedral, as it was so useful when dealing with public enquiries about the history of the building. My BA was in Archaeology and Ancient History, and at the end of my degree, I worked full time as a laboratory assistant for my local archaeological unit. I cleaned archaeological finds from a huge Roman site and prepared them for museum storage. The best part of that role was cleaning and preserving Roman painted wall plaster, as uncovering the colours and pigments of the plaster was amazing!
I am very happy to be back in Oxford, as it truly is a great city to live in. I do have a lifetime love of libraries, so cannot believe my luck that I get to work in a beautiful, 19th century library for a year! I am excited to learn new skills, improve my employability in more fields, and just to see where this year will take me.
Hello I’m Emma the new English Faculty Library Trainee! I did my degree in Classical Literature and Civilisation at the University of Birmingham, after which I worked for a year doing administrative work at AQA and some seasonal work at Waterstones. I have had a little experience working in a library as I volunteered in my classics department library for two years whilst I was at university, but otherwise I’m very new to the experience of working in a larger library.
The EFL is located on Manor Road in the St. Cross Building which also hosts the Law Library and is next door to the Social Sciences Library. The library has various special collections including the Icelandic collection which is held in the Turville-Petre room. Previously the library hosted the Wilfred Owen Collection which was donated by Mrs Harold Owen in 1975 and consisted of Owen’s personal library displayed exactly as it had been on his shelves. The library is also in the process of reclassifying the old in-house system to LCC so I have been helping shift books before term starts.
I have now been working at English Faculty Library for just over a month and I’ve already learnt so much about the different tasks and processes within the library such as; the BSF deliveries, working on the issue desk, processing new books and journals, whilst also drinking lots of tea! Recently as part of my trainee role I created a display on banned books which was really interesting to put together and helped me refresh my knowledge of English Literature. Everyone I work with is really lovely and helpful, as well as our readers, which has helped me settle in. It has been lovely to meet the other trainees and I look forward to the year ahead.
I’m Evie and I am one of the two new graduate trainees at the Bodleian reader services aka the Old Bod. So yes I get to work in the building Harry Potter was filmed in – pretty cool!
Duke Humphrey’s Reading Room – also the Hogwarts Library
I am a very recent graduate, having only finished my BA Anthropology degree in June of this year. Anthropology at the University of Bristol was an amazing experience, such an interesting subject and I cannot wait to make a visit to the Tylor (anthropology) library in Oxford.
During the last year of my degree and over the summer I worked in my local public library, which is the reason I decided to go for the traineeship here at Oxford. My experience at the public library has already been vastly different to the Bodleian – I have not had to sing nursery rhymes to babies yet or try to explain to an elderly person how to turn a computer on… I did love my experience there though, and I think it has set me in good stead for what may be to come in this new role.
So, I have been here at the Bod for two weeks now, and it is already flying by. I am finally starting to feel like I know what is going on and what I should be doing at any given moment of the day. Working in such a historic building is amazing (despite the stairs) and the Duke Humphreys reading room is definitely my favourite! I also have met all the other trainees several times thanks to several training courses we have had, and the Divinity Drinks reception we were invited to this week. Everyone is super kind and interesting – I think we are in for a fun year ahead of us!
I am excited for the undergrads to arrive in a couple of weeks, I think the phrase I have heard the most over the last couple of weeks is ‘just you wait till term starts’ every time I comment on the quietness or say something is easy! Its going to be an amazing experience, working in Oxford, and I still can’t quite believe I am here!
So that is my little hello post, I look forward to everyone else’s and to keep the blog up to date with my year 🙂
We welcomed our new 2019-20 trainees to Oxford last week and we have 20 trainees this year. Most of our trainees are based in the Bodleian Libraries, 5 in our colleges and we have 1 Digital Archives trainees. Pembroke College and the Bodleian’s Rare Books department have recruited a trainee this year and they are looking forward to being part of the scheme. The Law Library and Taylorian have both recruited an extra trainee this time as well. They attended the Trainee Welcome session last Wednesday and have a packed training programme this term to get them up to speed with the skills and knowledge they need for the start of Michaelmas Term. They are looking forward to their tour of the Bodleian and drinks in the Divinity School this week where Amy Warner-May, Associate Director of Scholarly Resources, will welcome them to the libraries.
Our trainees will be introducing themselves on the trainee blog over the next week or two, so do follow their progress throughout the year. We wish them a happy and successful year with us in Oxford!
As the 2018-19 trainee scheme draws to a close, we have listed our immediate plans for the future in this blog post. Hopefully this will be useful to anyone thinking of applying to the scheme, or for the next cohort of trainees to have some sense of where they might be heading in a year’s time. All the best to the new trainees starting in September, and good luck to any future applicants to the scheme.
I’m going to be doing the full-time Library and Information Studies MA at UCL, with a focus on manuscripts, palaeography and historical bibliography. I’ll also be working part-time at New College Library as Special Collections Curatorial Assistant.
I’ve loved my trainee year at St Hugh’s – the work has been diverse and interesting, my colleagues (and the cats) are lovely, and the training sessions have been really useful. I’ll be staying on at St Hugh’s for another 2 years as a Library Assistant, while doing the long-distance Library and Information Services Management MA course at the University of Sheffield. After that, who knows? Might stay in Oxford, or might try and find a Librarian position back home in Scotland. I’ve enjoyed working in an academic library with a modern working collection, so I’ll probably look for roles in similar libraries (but won’t limit myself). The trainee scheme has taught me a lot, and has been an excellent gateway into the profession. Made some friends too – I’m sure we’ll help one another through the masters.
Admiral Flapjack, one of the St Hugh’s College cats.
I really enjoyed my time at the Sainsbury Library. My colleagues were all so welcoming and made me feel part of the team instantly. They were always happy to answer my questions and help me whenever I was stuck. The trainee scheme was a great way to meet other people as well. It was particularly helpful when moving to a new city as it’s great to have other people in the same boat to talk to. I finished my traineeship at the Sainsbury Library at the end of May and moved to St Hilda’s College where I am now the Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach Officer there. A bit of a change from libraries, but I’m really enjoying my new job and having new challenges.
I learnt a great a deal throughout the year, learnt new skills, and met some lovely people. One main tip, if you do apply, don’t be daunted by subject specialist libraries! The Sainsbury Library is a business library, and I’ve never studied Business or Economics and I really enjoyed my time there. If you’re interested in libraries, books, the University of Oxford, definitely apply for the graduate scheme! You never know where you’ll end up!
Next year I will be studying for the Sheffield University MA Library and Information Services Management, part time via distance learning. I will also be working mornings as a Library Assistant at University College, Oxford (commonly referred to as Univ), just over the road from where I am currently based, so I’m not moving far.
After a brilliant year at the Bodleian Law Library, I will miss all my colleagues and fellow trainees in Oxford lots when I return back home to Glasgow to study for a MSc in Information and Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde. I am hoping to be able to get a part-time job in libraries while studying full-time for my masters, and I am very excited but also slightly apprehensive about what the future will bring – wish me luck!
I finished the Taylor traineeship early, at the end of June, in order to start my new, permanent part-time position as Library Assistant across the Taylor, Sackler, and Oriental Institute Libraries, which I have been working in for a month already! Come September, I will be adding studying at UCL, as I take my MA (part-time) in Library and Information Studies. I’ve had a wonderful time as a trainee, and I’m so excited about where I’m going next!
I will be working as a Senior Library Assistant at St. Anne’s College Library, while completing my LIS MA part-time at UCL come September. Having been completely new to libraries when I started as a trainee, I would have never had the skills or confidence to go into my new role or further study without the traineeship, and am very grateful for the year I’ve had!
I have really enjoyed my graduate trainee year at Christ Church Library and the experience really confirmed for me that I really do want to work in Library and Information Services. As such I applied for an MA in Library and Information Services Management at the University of Sheffield, which I will be starting this September. This will be through distance learning and I will be studying part-time over two years. I am also really fortunate to have the opportunity to continue working full-time at Christ Church Library as a Library Assistant for the next year. Both working full-time and studying part-time will be a challenge, but I am really glad I can be working in a library alongside my studies as I think it will keep me motivated and hopefully what I learn in one will help me in the other!
I’m going to work on a project in Croatia, ‘Mapping and documentation of industrial heritage’, in Ivanic-Grad. It’s organised by Culture Hub Croatia, in partnership with Friends of Heritage and European Heritage Volunteers. They organise short placements around Europe for young heritage professionals. I suppose it’s a kind of chance to use archival skills in a setting where they are trying to develop a public profile of their heritage.
Rebecca delivering her presentation at the trainee showcase in July 2019.
I have really enjoyed the Bodleian Graduate Library Traineeship; everyone has been incredibly supportive and receptive, and I will miss my fellow trainees who are leaving Oxford to pursue opportunities elsewhere – I wish them luck!
During the traineeship, my nisus has been toward achieving a place on a library-related Masters programme, so I was pleased to learn earlier this year that I have been accepted to study Library and Information Services Management at Sheffield University. The course is a distance-learning programme taught on a part time basis, which means I can continue to live and work in Oxford. Having recently secured a permanent position here as a Library Assistant, I am a little apprehensive over the prospect of balancing professional and academic commitments, but after speaking to some of my colleagues, I realise I am not alone in this respect!
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).
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!
Why did you want to shadow at the library you chose?
Ross Jones, History Faculty Library: Having 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Can you describe the library you visited in one word?
(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.
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.
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.’
‘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.
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.
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…’
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.
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.
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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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!