Hello, my name is Charlie Ough (pronounced “Oh”) and I started just a little more than a month ago now as the new Graduate Trainee at the Old Bodleian Library, the building composed of the fifteenth-century Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s reading room together with the seventeenth-century Quad connected to the Radcliffe Camera via the Gladstone Link. Though I was a Master’s student at St Antony’s College up until I started the traineeship (handing in my dissertation less than 24 hours before my first day!), I have only just gotten to know my way around this central complex of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries with the particular help of Alice at the Rad Cam. Previously, I could count with ease on just one hand the number of times I had visited during my year’s study!
I also did not have any experience of working in libraries or information management before I started. However, the time I have spent studying and researching in libraries and archives during my undergraduate degree at SOAS, University of London and Master’s in Modern Middle Eastern Studies here at Oxford really got me interested in finding out what goes on on the other side behind the now-ubiquitous plastic screens! After finishing my BA in History shortly after the first coronavirus wave in the summer of 2020, I spent over a year back in Devon working at the café of the Donkey Sanctuary just outside my home town of Sidmouth and then at a pub in Oxford alongside my studies. This experience of customer service with some of the most difficult punters out there (drunks, dogs, and donkeys) means I’ve very quickly come to enjoy helping readers at the Bodleian despite my lack of formal knowledge of the building itself and profession more widely.
One of my favourite duties so far has to be working at the Enquiry Desk on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings with Alan and Morwenna. This desk is always staffed during the Old Bodleian’s opening hours and serves, from its convenient location by the main entrance to the Lower Reading Room, as the first point of contact for all email and telephone enquiries sent to the Bodleian Libraries. While helping readers reset passwords and find books, I have the opportunity to track down obscure texts, find and present information about medieval representations of rats and photographs of 1930s’ Chad Valley board games, and iron-out irregularities in our catalogue all the while chatting with my colleagues about our weekends, Cary Grant’s suits and the latest bizarre and apocalyptic junk mail we’ve received!
Aside from that, the only other main activity I have been tasked with that Alice hasn’t already mentioned is investigating some of the oddities in the classification of the collected primary documents and local history material in the oldest part of the Old Bod, the Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room. Though it can be frustrating to try to understand why volumes 4, 6 and 19 of the List & Index Society Series (I assure you as exciting as the name suggests!) were sent to our offsite storage facility in Swindon when all the other volumes are on the Open Shelves, requesting items up from the closed stack and realising you have solved at least a piece of the puzzle can be rather rewarding! As rewarding as reading the editor’s apologist defence of the tradition of feudalism in the 2003 edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry is entertaining, unsurprising, and deeply worrying all at once!
In the months ahead, I’m looking forward to our Trainee trip to the storage facility in Swindon and to giving more tours for new undergraduate students which I have thoroughly enjoyed and also discovered as a brilliant way of forcing myself to memorise and retain a lot of the diffuse information and advice I have received over the past month. If anyone reading this comes on one of my tours, or simply sees me around the library, please do come up to ask any questions you have which I’ll be more than happy to answer or pass on to the veritably-omniscient Alan! You might also see me in the evenings or weekends working the occasional shift at Oxford’s oldest pub, the Bear Inn off the High Street, though do not perhaps expect me to be quite as polite!