We, the 2020-21 trainees, know what you’ve all been wondering. Where did we go?! We admit, it’s been radio silence on the blog for a while, but it’s been a very strange year. After another winter lockdown which saw some of us working from home, some of us still working in libraries (many of which once again had to close their doors to readers) and only some of us in Oxford, things became a little more normalised in Trinity term. Unfortunately we were unable to hold our Trainee Showcase in person and held it on Teams instead, but it was still great to see what everyone had been up to this year. Below are several summaries, provided by trainees, of their presentations and projects. This is our final (belated!) blog post, and we’d like to take this opportunity to wish the new 2021-22 cohort of trainees the very best of luck – we hope you have a wonderful year!
Kick Stools, Queries & Other Quirks: A Year at the EFL
Katie Allen, English Faculty Library
Working as part of a small team at the English Faculty Library has meant that my role as a trainee this year has been varied and busy, despite the fact that the library was closed to readers (except for Click & Collect pickups) during Hilary term. I’ve processed new acquisitions, hunted for missing books, been part of group efforts to wrangle Perspex screens into place, made a library tour video for the English Faculty outreach programme, conducted kick stool safety inspections, eaten many a doughnut from the Missing Bean Café… It was hard to focus in on one topic to talk about for my presentation, so instead I put together a list of the top ten quirkiest things I’d encountered while working at the EFL and used the list as a springboard to talk about my experiences this year.
Shakes, Breaks and Retakes: The Making of a Law Library Tour
Ella Burrows, Law Library
Earlier this year, Naomi, the other Law Library trainee, and me were asked to make a video tour of the Law Library so that prospective trainees could get a feel for the space (they were not able to visit in person during their interviews because of the pandemic).
My presentation focused on the process of creating this tour, all the way from our initial planning through to uploading the tour on to YouTube. Along the way, I touched on the difficulties of filming, and having to re-shoot the video when the angles didn’t quite work; how we decided upon OpenShot, the free open-source software I used to edit the video, and the lengthy editing process that followed; and the advantages of YouTube as a platform to share content, particularly in terms of accessibility features such as closed captions and timestamps. To keep the talk interesting, I included some videos of my editing practice and clips from the original recording versus the re-shoot.
I finished with a summary of the lessons learned from the project – we could have improved the sound quality, and a test shoot might have made our lives a bit easier. Overall, it was great to learn some new filming and editing skills, and several prospective trainees commented that the video had been very helpful, so it was definitely a worthwhile project – and the presentation went down well too!
Ethical Classification in St John’s College Library & Study Centre
Simone Gaddes, St John’s College Library
My project focused on the implementation of ethical classification within the St John’s College Library & Study Centre’s in-house classification system. I began developing this project when I was processing and classifying books for the new Diversity and Equality Collection, and I realised that many of the topics covered by texts in this collection were difficult to fit into the classification system. For example, the collection features several texts about Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, however the only classmark for slavery came under ‘North American History’. The Diversity and Equality Collection was formed as part of a wider movement across Oxford University to make the university and colleges more inclusive places to study. The collection seeks to amend the historical gaps within the library’s holdings, to ensure that the library represents the diverse community at St John’s College. In light of these motivations behind the collection, I felt it was necessary to alter the library’s in-house classification system through a diversity aware lens.
After submitting a proposal to my line manager, I conducted research to inform my approach. I was interested to find that most classification systems used in the UK, including at St John’s, are informed by western perspectives. Classification systems can appear to be neutral to the outside eye, but classmarks affect how information is presented to and accessed by readers. As a result, certain topics have been overshadowed or hidden within classmarks that do not represent them. During this research, I came across the term ‘ethical classification’, which seeks to enable librarians to make changes to classification systems and feel as though they are doing ‘the right thing’. The goal of ethical classification is the ethical and responsible management of classification systems that represent the diverse and multi-cultural society of today. Using this definition as guidance, I revised the library’s Modern History Classification scheme by looking at the 6446 texts in this section and subsequently altered existing classmarks and introduced new ones. To assist in the continuation of ethical classification at St John’s, I produced a guidance document to inform future reclassification projects.
Law Library Carrels: a User Feedback Survey
Naomi Hart, Law Library
The Law Library opened up sixteen of its carrels (study cubicles) to walk-ins during the pandemic, prior to which the majority of the carrels were either reserved to named individuals or had to be booked in advance. In future more “normal” times, the Law Library wanted to know whether to revert to that previous system or introduce something new, i.e. maintaining an increased number of walk-in carrels. The carrels feedback survey gathered information from readers to help inform this decision-making.
My trainee presentation described the purpose behind the survey, timeline and process of creating it, a report of the results to each question (overwhelmingly in favour of opening up the carrels), challenges faced and lessons learned for the future. The presentation ended by sharing some of the lovely comments readers wrote on their forms. Some favourite quotations: “the carrel openness has been glorious in the past few months”; “it’s very nice to feel like I have an ‘office’ to come to work in outside my room”; “they have been an absolute boon in this pandemic.”
Shakespearean ekphrasis in New College, MS 367: One manuscript and its story
Anna-Nadine Pike, New College Library
I have been the Library Trainee in New College Library this year, and the clear highlight of my role has been the opportunities to work closely with the Library’s remarkable Special Collections, which consists of over four hundred manuscripts, eight hundred incunabula, and several thousands of early printed books. I was keen to use my trainee project as a chance to examine one of the Library’s lesser-known manuscripts in more detail, calling it to light for a wider audience. Although the stars of our Special Collections are very well known, often appearing on websites, communications, social media, and even postcards, many of our manuscripts have not yet had their time in the limelight. This might be because we don’t yet have a complete English manuscripts catalogue; the last full catalogue was completed by Henry Coxe in 1852, in Latin, which is not only quite inaccessible if you don’t happen to know Latin, but is also over 150 years out of date. In fact, the manuscript which I chose to look at, MS 367, has never been catalogued, having only been acquired by New College late in the twentieth century. MS 367 is a presentation manuscript containing a unique and previously unknown poem entitled ‘The Visions of William Collins’, written in 1792 by the poet and playwright, Thomas Powell (1735-1820). Both poem and manuscript mark the publication of a new edition of Shakespeare’s works which had been overseen by Sir John Boydell (1719-1804), printmaker, engraver, and curator of the London Shakespeare Gallery. Boydell wanted to establish what he called the ‘English School of Historical Painting’, and he turned to the works of Shakespeare for his subject matter. Boydell’s own edition of Shakespeare’s plays forms just one aspect of his larger project; he commissioned well-known artists to paint scenes from Shakespeare’s dramas, which would all be exhibited in his Shakespeare Gallery, which was established in an exhibition space in Pall Mall, London, standing there from 1789 to 1805. In time, these paintings were turned into engravings, which were bound and sold, and Boydell’s own edition of Shakespeare’s plays was illustrated with smaller versions of these same engravings.
The focus of my project was, firstly, researching and understanding the contexts for this manuscript’s production, and its wider literary significance. I then presented my findings in a variety of formats, mindful of their different audiences. I got involved with the Taylor Digital Editions project to make the text of the manuscript available online, which felt worthwhile as Powell’s poem, the manuscript itself declares, has never been printed, and seems to survive uniquely in the New College copy. I also made and edited a short film about this manuscript, which I hope will be part of a wider video series which the Library can continue to produce. This was a useful learning curve, as I did not have previous experience with video editing, but the Deputy Librarian and I have since filmed two additional manuscript videos, and our series will launch on our website and social media in Michaelmas 2021. Finally, I also wrote a scholarly article about MS 367 which was recently published in New College Notes, the Library’s journal. The article included my transcription of Powell’s poem, together with a detailed exploration of its literary and cultural contexts. I researched the life of the poet William Collins, Powell’s protagonist, who had himself been a student at Winchester College and intended for New College in 1740. I also considered how far the individual stanzas of Powell’s poem, each of which describes a scene or moment from one of Shakespeare’s plays, related to a painting which hung in Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery in 1792, the year of the manuscript’s composition. Through access to the Weston Library’s Special Collections, I set MS 367 alongside the catalogues printed to accompany Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, and against the early editions of Boydell’s illustrative Shakespearean prints. I used this to argue that MS 367 works almost as a microcosmic, textual version of Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery; its stanzas are ekphrastic, offering written counterparts to the paintings which Boydell commissioned, and which also illustrated his edition of Shakespeare.
I am glad that the trainee project afforded the opportunity to look at this manuscript, and it was encouraging to see what new work can be done with our Collections items. I am now looking forward to a further year working in New College Library as their Curatorial Assistant, and hope that I can continue some of the research and work which this project inspired.
My New College Notes article: https://www.new.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2021-07/15NCN11%20%282021%29%20Pike%20on%20MS%20367.pdf
The full journal issue of New College Notes: https://www.new.ox.ac.uk/new-college-notes?page=0