Heather Barr, St Edmund Hall ‘Teddy Hall’

The first full week of October this year is National Libraries Week 2021. It is also Oxford University’s “0th week” – the week before the start of term in which we welcome students (new and returning!) to Oxford and begin to prepare for the new academic year. With this in mind, I have been reflecting on my own time in libraries at Oxford – as an Undergraduate at Lady Margaret Hall (2015-2018, English), a Graduate at St Hilda’s College (2020-2021, Medieval English Literature), and as a Graduate Trainee Library Assistant at St Edmund Hall.


Shelved, leather bound books.
Books in St Edmund Hall’s Old Library.

Books books books…


Like most people, the first thing I think when someone says “library” is “books!”, and like most English students, the second thing I think is “ooh let me see”. I highly doubt that anyone will be surprised to learn that I have always loved books – reading them, talking about them, buying them… even just being around them. Of course, Oxford as a city and University is a book-lover’s dream come true. With more than 100 libraries containing over 12 million printed items (and much more besides), the opportunities to read and research are incredible. Yet the sheer volume of what is available can be a little overwhelming. Two pieces of advice, however, really helped me.

First: always factor in book-finding time! This was probably the most important thing anyone said to me as an undergraduate. Especially in the first term, you find yourself juggling a whole new set of commitments, and adjusting to the restraints on your time. “Get that book” deserves its own portion of time in your day, and factoring in that time will mean less running from shelf to shelf in a panic! Second: if in doubt, ask. Often we don’t want to ask a question because it seems silly, or it’s something we think we should know the answer to. Luckily, librarians are there to answer precisely those questions! Coming fresh to librarianship from being a student, I’m really looking forward to supporting all library users however they need it.


Spaces and places

Image of library book shelves in a medieval church.
Teddy Hall Library, Church of St Peter-in-the-East.



Libraries are not just home to books, of course, but to a wide range of resources and facilities – from e-journals to medieval manuscripts, from colour printers to overlays to aid reading. They are also important spaces for humans. I certainly would not have enjoyed my degrees had I not felt so at-home in my college and faculty libraries. I would also highly recommend making a pub-crawl-style bucket list of libraries to which you have access! They all have something different to offer. A surprise favourite of mine has always been the Social Sciences Library – modern, comfortable, and conveniently close to the Missing Bean coffee shop!


Now, I’m very lucky to come to work everyday in the beautiful setting of Teddy Hall’s Library: the deconsecrated church of St Peter-in-the-East. The core of the existing church – the nave, chancel, and crypt – was built between 1130 and 1160, and the building grew substantially in the next 400 years. In fact, the Lady Chapel is believed to have been donated by St Edmund of Abingdon (the Hall’s namesake) in c.1220, during his time as a lecturer at the University. It was in 1970 that St Peter-in-the-East opened as Teddy Hall’s library. It is a truly wonderful space, complete with stained glass windows and desks tucked away up in the church’s tower.

While I was an Undergraduate, I volunteered as an Ambassador for the English Faculty. This was my first introduction to a side of libraries in which I have become increasingly interested, and which I look forward to exploring more during my time as a trainee: outreach and access. Libraries are hubs of intellectual activity, and important places – as I have said – for resources and people alike. I hope I can use this year to learn more about how we can make Oxford’s libraries as welcoming and outward-facing as possible, so that they are spaces in which everyone feels they have a place.

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