Trip to Jesus (College)

Dear all, below my very late write up of Siobhán’s excellent tour of Jesus College Libraries:

On a ferociously cold and exceptionally bright December morning, the trainees assembled like penguins outside the gates of Jesus College for the next in our programme of library tours. Much like St Peter (if he aspired to an MA in Information Management) Siobhán kindly guided us in.

Quad of Jesus College.
Quad of Jesus College.

Founded (somewhat misleadingly) by Elizabeth I in 1571, Jesus College now has about 500 students and three libraries. Beginning with the 24 hour-access undergraduate Meyricke Library, Siobhán showed us Bodleian kids the delights and challenges of the college set up. The main issue, it seemed to me, was in determining at what point a “comfortable and personalised work space” turns into a “nest”.  On the plus side, it would be possible for a trainee to run a highly lucrative black market operation in lost property (trousers anyone?)[1]

Siobhán shows us some books in the Meyricke Library. (If you're very quiet and look very carefully, you might just be able to see some of the books behind Siobhán)

As it is also Oxford’s “Welsh” College, Jesus houses a Celtic Collection: a restricted library of about 8, 000 books which are maintained and developed by Jesus staff and accessed by students and academics at Oxford and from further afield.

Next on the list? The newly refurbished Fellows’ Library, originally constructed in 1677, which contains a fine collection of old bookshelves with some appropriately aged books. It also contains one of Jesus’ treasures, the dissertation of T E Lawrence, Crusader Castles. A few thousand words and a couple of architectural sketches aside, you really do have to admire a degree system that accepts “a bit of a jolly across the Holy Land” in place of finals. A special mention must also go to the exceptionally comfortable armchairs and really very illuminating lamps. More info on the library’s recent refurb can be found here:

The Fellows' Library

For the cherry on an already highly impressive cake, Siobhán had orchestrated a truly admirable biscuit arrangement: from wafers, through creams, to those “more chocolate than biscuit” fellows of which the trainees are so fond. Refreshment was taken in the Old Bursary and tea and coffee was kindly provided by Jesus.

[1] Not that Siobhan has ever, would ever, or indeed could ever partake in such illicit activity.

Library Day in the Life Round 8: Monday

This is the first of five blog posts written for round 8 of the Library Day in the Life Project  by the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library.

I found out a little while ago about a project called Library Day in the Life.  Twice a year people who work in libraries and library school students share with the world what they actually do through blog posts, twitter, photos, videos or in any other way they can think of.  I think it’s brilliant idea, so decided to participate in the next round.

Although I’m the Radcliffe Science Library trainee, I don’t actually spend all my week there as we have two satellite libraries where I also work.  My normal timetable is:

  • Monday – Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy
  • Tuesday – Alexander Library of Ornithology
  • Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – Radcliffe Science Library (RSL)

So, here we go …

11am: Arrive at the Fielding-Druce Herbarium at the Department of Plant Sciences.  A herbarium is like a library with dried plant specimens instead of books, but this one also houses library material (i.e. books) and the library offices as well. The library and herbarium work together very closely.  My evening duty (5-7pm) at the RSL for this week is today, so I’m in a couple of hours later than usual.  I check my emails and book myself on to an Oxford University Computing Services course on copyright in the digital age for which booking has just opened.

11.15am:  I gather some stationery together and head up to the general reading room, which is on the other side of the building.  The reading room is accessible to department members via swipe card and not usually staffed, but this is where I spend most of my time when I’m at plant sciences as it is where the archive I’m working on is kept.

Druce Archive boxes
Druce Archive boxes

Throughout my year as a trainee I’m working on the archive of man called George Clarence Druce.  Druce was a botanist, pharmacist and strongly involved with Oxford City Council, becoming mayor in 1900.  He also seemed to keep almost every piece of paper he acquired!  My task for the year was to re-box the archive into conservation boxes and make a basic listing of what is in each box.  I completed the re-boxing stage last year and am now on to the description stage.

I start where I finished off last week – on box 12 (of about 150!).  This box contains material relating to Czecho-Slovakia (as it was then), mostly from a visit Druce made there in 1920 as part of a deputation of British journalists and includes correspondence, newspaper cuttings, tourist guides, photographs, postcards, maps, menus … As this box contains lots of unusual items and is not easily sorted into bundles, each item is described separately in the Excel spreadsheet I am using to list the contents of the archive.  I give each item a number, note down the name of anyone connected with the item and a year (if applicable), select a material type (e.g. letter, photograph, map, etc) write a general description and note down anything that might be a conservation issue.

12.25pm: Box 12 finished, on to box 14 (I’ll come back to box 13 later).  This box contains much more normal contents for this archive – four bundles, mainly of correspondence but also containing all sorts of other material, with each bundle containing material from one or two years.  For each bundle I remove any old string or wrappings (wrappings are kept separately in the box), go through the items checking the material type, look for anything particularly interesting and check for botanical specimens hidden inside letters.  Once recorded each bundle is tied up with conservation tape with a small slip of acid-free paper indicating the bundle number.  In this box I came across (among many other things):

  • a pamphlet containing a list of the rules of and a list of the members of the Pharmacy Club for 1914
  • a report of the Oxford Education Committee’s Higher Education sub-committee
  • term cards of the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire (these crop up fairly frequently)
  • an invitation to the opening of the Radcliffe Infirmary and County Hospital’s new buildings
Workstation with computer, conservation box containing finished bundles, a bundle yet to be done, conservation tape etc
My workstation

1pm: Suddenly realise it is lunchtime, so pack up and head back down to the library offices to back up my mornings work onto the staff network drive before going to lunch.

2pm: Head back up to the reading room to carry on where I left off before lunch.

2.50pm: Help the librarian with photographing a page from a rare book for a researcher from Holland (the copy of the book the researcher has access to is missing pages).

3.10pm: Once we’ve finished the photographing we go to look for a suitable conservation box for some of the items in box 13 of the Druce archive.  Last week I had a quick look at the next few boxes to see what might be in store and when I looked in one of the envelopes in box 13 found it contained two penknives! We decided to store these separately from the rest of the archive, so they need their own box.  They will also need to be catalogued!

3.20pm: Having found a suitable box, I head back up to the reading room to finish off box 14.

3.40pm: Box 14 finished, seems like a good time for a tea break.

4pm: Start on the rest of the contents of box 13, which turns out to consist almost entirely of glass slides.  Very helpfully quite a lot of them have little labels saying what they are of.

4.45pm: Pack up the archive, go down to the library office to back up my work again and walk down the road to the RSL for my evening duty on the circulation desk.

5pm: Arrive at the RSL.  While on the circulation desk I issue books, return books, renew books, etc, but also tend to find time when it’s quiter to get other work done.  This evening I manage to deal with some emails, order books from our off-site storage facility for a visiting reader who is visiting the library next weekend and get a bit further with the LibGuide I’m creating on reference management.

7pm: End of the day.

Digital Preservation: What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

Last week I attended a student conference on digital preservation, hosted by the Digital Preservation Coalition. The event was called ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started’, and several digital preservationists gave some very interesting insights into the skills and challenges of digital preservation. The basic message was that digital preservation is a big task which requires urgent action, but that archivists already have many of the skills needed to carry it out. I’ve posted about it at the futureArch blog, if anyone is interested in finding out more.

Research Skills Toolkit

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours at OUCS (Oxford University Computing Services) helping at the Research Skills Toolkit event for mathematical, physical and life sciences. These events are workshops aimed at first- and second-year higher-degree researchers and students run by staff from the Bodleian Libraries and OUCS, with each event focussing on a specific subject area.  There were 10 tasks for the participants to complete introducing IT and library tools for research.

The three tasks run by staff from the Radcliffe Science Library covered searching in, creating alerts from and exporting references from databases on the Proquest platform; searching for conference papers via IEEE Xplore and finding upcoming conferences; and basic searching, cited reference searching and journal citation reports on Web of Knowledge.  Each task was set up on computers around one table with one member of staff per task, although everyone was able to answer questions on all the tasks.  Most of the questions were about navigating the websites, finding the right links and understanding what each database was searching.  Participants also seemed to find it useful to have subject librarians there to ask more in-depth questions that came up.

These events are continuing to run for the rest of this week and I’ll be back in week 8 when more are planned.

Rebecca Hunt, English Faculty Library

Hi I’m Rebecca and I’m the Graduate Trainee for the English Faculty Library. Due to a few technical difficulties I wasn’t able to post before now but better late than never!

I graduated in November from Trinity College, Dublin where I studied English Literature and History and this is my first proper grown-up job. I’m really enjoying working in the EFL, everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. My duties vary quite a bit from answering customer queries to processing new books and journals (for which you need a third hand), creating displays and wrestling with photocopiers. As time goes on I am steadily being entrusted with new tasks and responsibilities so I’m now helping with the reclassification project and will soon be lending a hand with acquiring new ebooks for the library.

So far it’s been a great year, Oxford still looks magical and I’ve made some really good friends in the other trainees. I know everyone has moved on from the introductory blog posts by now so I’m going to wrap it up with a snippet of useless yet interesting information. Its not even really information it’s just a link to the 35 most amazing libraries in the world as decided by someone. Some are pretty, some are space-like and some are just distracting. If nothing else it will teach you what a rhombicuboctahedron is. And the Bodleian makes it to number two! Take that Cambridge!

Anyway that’s it. Hope you all had a lovely Christmas.  Happy New Year!

Classifying the world: John Wilkins and the invention of a universal language

I decided to allow my inner geek have a trip out, and so we went to the talk at Magdalen College Library ‘Classifying the world: John Wilkins and the invention of a universal language’, by Tabitha Tuckett, who is one of the librarians there.

 John Wilkins was a clergyman and scientist from the seventeenth century who decided to try and make up his own language, to be understood by all, and his method of doing so was essentially to classify the world. As Wikipedia says, it was “brilliant but hopeless”.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mostly associate language invention with Tolkien, and my immediate mental image of an invented universal language is something like Esperanto. Wilkins’s invention of a universal language was different to both.He did not base his language on other European languages, rather, he believed that the way to achieve a language to be characterised by ease and usefulness was to base it on a logical system of classification. He would use categories and subcategories to create building blocks for conveying meaning, and attach phonemes to each building block to create words.

In the seventeenth century there was a movement to try and bring about a universal language, to create a language that could be understood by all. This movement was in part brought about by the decline in Latin as a lingua franca, and also by the increase in travel to parts of the world where the people spoke languages nothing like the European ones.

Wilkins developed a system of hierarchical classification, which he intended to be both spoken and written. The gist I got was that Wilkins’s aim was to arrange all human knowledge into categories, like Linnaeus would later do (with more success) with plants. He tried to arrange all of human knowledge into categories. Wilkins started with a broad concept, represented by one letter, and then added suffix after suffix to narrow it down. He had forty broad categories (genuses), ranging from God to disease to stones. Each genus could then be divided into sub categories, to aid the defining of them. Stones, for example, could then be divided into vulgar stones, middle prized, or precious; dissolvable and non-dissolvable. And vulgar stones could furthermore be sub categorised into greater or lesser magnitude, and so on.

His work then becomes of interest to linguists. I found the relationship between Wilkins’s language to his script and pronunciation quite hard to grasp. He developed a script, all squiggles, represented meaning directly. This means that his words could be written without ever being spoken, and his language was more of a classification scheme than a language that Tolkien might have made up.

I found it extremely interesting, especially how his language was limited by the inability to classify the extent of human knowledge. It was also limited by issues with tense and voice, and was a very brusque way of communicating. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see how even attempting to add a classification system to the world could create a comprehendible language.

Too many tweets make a…successful and engaged library service?

Hi everyone, I’ve written some thoughts about Twitter. Would be interested to hear if/how/why you use it at your libraries, and any answers to the thorny question below.


 “A Twitter feed for the library! What’s the point in that?”


What is a library without a Twitter feed these days?  Given the number of us who lovingly tend our accounts on a daily basis, letting our readers know with admirable foresight any alterations to opening hours, or perhaps informing the world that e-journal access is not currently working (No, wait! It’s back. Oh no, it’s gone again), you could be forgiven for thinking that the answer is ‘not very much’.  Alongside the irresistible rise of 23 Things and the ubiquity of the library blog, the little blue bird has become a sure sign of the tech savvy, forward thinking Library (2.0). Without it, you’re really nothing but a collection of books.  And who wants that?

I’ve been cultivating the Taylor Slavonic’s feed since I started. We’ve had our ups (currently being followed by the Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent) and our downs (also being followed, for reasons I don’t fully understand, by Elite Chauffeurs – “Hackneys and Executive cars for all occassions”), but on the whole we’ve seen the follower count go up to 195 and even had a few re-tweets. So far, so good. But aside from the obvious satisfaction of having more followers than the Taylorian (a derisory 165), I’m still curious as to why exactly it is that I spend about an hour a day finding stuff to tweet about, tweeting it, and paying attention to the tweets of others. Or, as one of our readers put it a touch more bluntly, while glancing at my lovingly crafted poster, “A twitter feed for the library! What’s the point in that?

Bill Drew of Tompkins Cortland Community College Library, NY, provides a succinct overview of why a library might be interested in Twitter, including being able to keep readers up to date with library developments, providing a reference service such as local news, and enquiring after readers’ opinions quickly and easily. This said, the majority of Drew’s reasons, good though they are, relate more to the institutional side of libraries rather than to reader services. For example, networking, keeping up with other libraries, following notable information professionals, none of which answer my reader’s question.

One way to respond would be to explain what we tweet about and why. As you can see from the poster, the aim was to expand the scope a little further than simply info about our Christmas holiday dates (24th Dec – 3rd Jan, in case you’re interested, but you’re not, are you?):

Twitter Poster

In short, if an event, news story, broadcast, resource or person relates either academically or culturally to any language in our library (and we have quite a few), then it gets tweeted. Over the past few weeks @TABSOxford has tweeted about: online resources for Russian history; digitisation projects of Byzantine manuscripts; details of free film screenings in Oxford; a whole host of lectures and seminars; times and dates of concerts in Oxford; and a fair few re-tweets for articles and websites of potential interest.

And why? Well, I like to think that in its own modest way, the feed is a place to:

I also hope that all this works cumulatively to make the library seem:

  •  Engaged and connected with the faculty and its subjects
  •  A hub for relevant interesting information (broader than simply being that building with all the books in it)
  •  Up to date and shiny – unlike the décor.

But what you put up on Twitter is only half the story. Or, rather, if no one is reading your story, then there is very little point in writing it. Because Twitter is the high demand shelf of the internet: small pieces of information that are needed at a particular time, briefly, but by many people. If your tweets are not being read and used, it doesn’t matter how valuable or interesting they may be, they don’t belong there. Twitter is not some sort of digital archive where information has value independent of use, imbued with a kind of potential irrespective of whether or not it’s consulted frequently (or at all). It’s all about temporary, widespread dissemination and, crucially, reception. In short, the best Twitter feeds link good information with the people who want it.

So I suppose the only way of answering my reader’s question would be to say, because our followers use it. At least I hope they do. Luckily, I know a good way to ask them. I’ll get back to you.

Library Camp and Other Things

Hey everyone,

For anyone who’s interested or missed it , here’s my blog about Library Camp 2011, which I attended about a month ago.

I’m also working my way through 23 Things for Professional Development, which so far is really interesting. If anyone else wants to do it with me, so that we can prod each other and get a move on, that would be great.

Another great site I’m using is LISNPN, where lots of trainees and professionals get top know each other.

Maybe, as we head towards the end of term, some of us could do a post on here about what we’ve learnt so far this year. It would be great to hear about people’s experiences so far!

[And a plug for #uklibchat 🙂 Every other Thursday on Twitter. Tonight it’s about games and gamification in libraries, and is really interesting to take part in and follow.]


Hi there

I’m Matt as you all know by now.

I am the graduate trainee at the Bodleian Library, and I am getting well into the thick of things in week 4 of term. I graduated last summer from the University of Birmingham with a BA, in Ancient History. Just before, and throughout the duration of my degree I have worked for the NHS in areas including: Patient Administration Systems (PAS), Clinical Coding, and most recently in the Outpatients department.

I enjoy sports in general, including water sports but I am particularly enthusiastic about racket sports, mainly Badminton and Squash. I also enjoyed managing and playing in a six-aside football team at university.

I have undertaken a number of roles since I began working at the Bodleian, including shelving and unloading deliveries; however the majority of my time is spent assisting and interacting with the public on both the reserve and main enquiry desks.

To sum up my time so far, I’m loving Oxford, living the dream and my hope is to benefit from the experience I will gain from the traineeship and the chances I will have to get to know new people.

Rebecca Nielsen, futureArch, Digital Archives

Hello! I’m Rebecca, and I’m the futureArch graduate trainee, based within BEAM (Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts).

I graduated last year from the University of Leicester, where I studied History. Since then I have worked at a GP surgery and volunteered at Shropshire Archives, where I was involved in a project on some Parish collections. This meant I got to work with a lot of old documents, including the relics of a key member of the early Methodist movement.

My role in futureArch is quite different, as I am dealing with born-digital material: things like websites, emails, Word documents, audio files, and digital photos. This means working with sites on the live web, as well as capturing files off CDs and floppy disks. I am also doing some more traditional archive work, assisting in the Special Collections Reading Room once a week and cataloguing paper collections using EAD. I’m looking forward to learning more about archives over the next year, especially the challenges which digital material presents to archivists.