Doing something different: tours of the Bodleian

I’ve said on previous occasions that the Bodleian is as much a museum as it is a library, with its ancient and delicate collections being the main exhibit. However, the buildings that constitute the Bodleian are themselves of great historical interest. Recently I found this out for myself when I volunteered my services as a tour guide to the Historic Venues Team. Although the Bodleian possesses a core team of paid staff  who deal with tourists visiting the site, many of the guides are unpaid volunteers who do it as a labour of love.  I saw this as an opportunity to combine my knowledge and skills as a librarian with my passionate interest in history. So, over the last few weeks, I have been giving tours on weekends to groups of interested visitors, eager to learn more about one of the biggest and oldest English language libraries in the world. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I have decided to continue giving tours until I leave my job at the beginning of August.

I thought I would blog about this because I now wish that I had discovered the volunteer scheme sooner: I hope this post will alert future graduate trainees (and maybe other OU librarians) to its existence. Not only do you learn a great deal about the Bodleian’s history but you get really valuable practice at public speaking as well: this is a key skill but not one that is really developed by any library training courses.  It can also be enormous fun, as I am sure the slightly tipsy group of seniors I had to show around last weekend would agree!

3 comments on “Doing something different: tours of the Bodleian

  1. Sounds like fun! Indeed it will be practice at public speaking which I know for me is a bit of a weakness.

    Just so later trainees know (and also because I am curious!) how did you go about organising volunteering? Did you just email the Historic Venues Team and ask; or were they asking for volunteers (and thus, it would depend on timing)?

  2. I emailed the tours section of the Bodleian Historic Venues Team (tours@bodleian asking them whether it was possible to do some volunteer work. I then met with the lady who supervises the volunteers: she gave me the necessary information and offered me some dates when she needed some help.

  3. This sounds like a really great thing to have done. Since arriving in Oxford, I’ve discovered that the Bodleian is a fascinating place both in terms of its collections and its buildings. It’s the kind of place I’d love to just wander around and explore and a place that I really have enjoyed visiting as a reader. It must be wonderful to share that kind of enthusiasm with visitors as a tour guide. If future trainees get the opportunity to be a tour guide or to work a few extra shifts in one of the reading rooms (like I’ve done) then I would absolutely recommend that they take the opportunity! At the very least everyone should spend a couple of hours reading a good book or learning something new in the Bodleian! Well done James.

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