Hi! I’m Chess, the 2020/21 trainee at Christ Church College. I’ve just completed a Masters in eighteenth-century literature here in Oxford, previously based at Wolfson, and worked as a shelving assistant in the English Faculty Library throughout my degree. Before that, I worked in a medieval cathedral, assisting the Verger team and providing guided tours. Christ Church is therefore the ideal marriage of both environments and is an incredibly beautiful, historically resonant place to work.
Unlike most of the trainees, I have been lucky enough to work full-time on site since August. This has given me the time to familiarise myself with book processing procedure and using Aleph before the influx of student arrivals; to witness what happens in a library behind the scenes in preparation for a new academic year; and to develop a feeling for this particular college’s life with its unique mix of students, fellows and clergy. It has certainly been a distinct learning curve to be involved in the transition of Covid-regulating the library during an unprecedented period of closure, from assisting with remote learning (posting books to students, providing scans, etc.) to once again functioning as an open library. I anticipated librarianship to be fairly repetitive or sedentary by nature, but the job thus far has varied widely, including enquiry desk work, collecting post, handling Click and Collect requests, collating book offers, posting on social media, navigating between our main library and separate Law library, and fetching books from our various off-site locations. I also work some evenings as a clerk in the gorgeous Upper Library, home to our special collections and uniquely open as a study space for students this year in an effort to increase our seating capacity. It is both surreal and thrilling to work here at night surrounded by rows of leather-bound volumes and illuminated manuscripts – a hat case belonging to Horace Walpole rests within metres of my desk, a rather absurd recent discovery for me as a former Gothic literature student.
Especially on my mind this year is how to support students trying to navigate studying in incredibly difficult and isolating circumstances, many of whom are encountering academic libraries for the first time. For me, helping them to avail of resources irrespective of their personal circumstances is of foremost importance – delivering books and library goody bags to self-isolating students has become the priority task of my afternoons. The most rewarding part of this job so far has been meeting Freshers, especially those coming from abroad, and introducing them to the library as well as hearing about their experiences of Oxford. I wanted to work in a college (rather than faculty) library precisely to be involved in such a community, and to encounter a variety of people researching an eclectic range of subjects. I’m gradually getting to know our library regulars and hope to provide a welcoming and reliable presence for our students in an otherwise challenging year.