With the Christmas break (or ‘vac’ as it is abbreviated in Oxford-speak) behind us, and the new term about to begin, it feels like the perfect time to take stock of a term’s worth of experiences – especially since this is the period when some of the potential future trainees will be working on their applications and hopefully looking to the blog to see what to expect from the traineeship.
Although one might expect the job of every library trainee based in Oxford to be the same, it’s surprising to see how much our work can differ; there is a different flavour to each of Oxford’s libraries and this will determine some of what you do during your traineeship – whether you’re the voice of authority informing tourists that no, the Radcliffe Camera is for registered readers only, or, as George recounts in her post, find the reader’s slip of J.R.R. Tolkien in a book called up from the Bodleian library stacks.
The library where I work does not have quite the same claims of longevity or fame, although another of Oxford’s literary greats, Charles Dodgson (better known under his pen name, Lewis Carroll), would visit our college to trial his Game of Logic with the students. Significantly, it is part of the first college to admit female students in Oxford. Although Lady Margaret Hall has since become coeducational and students are allowed to use the Bodleian library (the fellows are no longer quite as concerned about students encountering a boy on their way to pick up some books as they were back in 1879), the rich collections of erstwhile core texts are a reminder of the library’s past.
While, unlike some of the other trainees, I had no experience of working in a library, the training and guidance both at LMH and in the trainee sessions organised by Emma soon made me feel ready to deal with the day-to-day work. The first few weeks of the traineeship were an excellent opportunity to become familiar with the lay of the land. As might be expected of an academic library, the work follows the ebb and flow of the academic calendar, and the majority of the trainee placements begin at the start of September, which gives you several weeks before term begins. With the arrival of freshers’ week, life briefly gets taken over by library induction sessions – in our case complete with an introduction to Freddie, the library’s resident resin skeleton who doubles as an anatomy study prop and the star of seasonal social media posts by the college’s Communications team, such as this tweet:
Freddie started his thesis in 1987, and never left LMHLibrary! Happy #Halloween2017 pic.twitter.com/bOdTEncHqD
— Lady Margaret Hall (@lmhoxford) October 31, 2017
After this busy first week filled with new faces and countless queries about the library’s printing facilities, I started settling into more of a routine, with the working week broken up by the Wednesday training sessions in Osney, which have so far included talks on various developments and trends in librarianship, and a trip to the somewhat surreal Book Storage Facility. Throughout the term I have taken on several mini-projects to keep myself occupied when the day-to-day tasks are out of the way. These have ranged from processing donations given to the library by alumni and staff, to, more recently, beginning to reclassify the library’s Italian collection.
Unexpected visits from alumni, returning to the library to discover how it has changed since their graduation definitely add to the variety of the job, such as the very timely 31/10 visit by a former student, whose kind donation of a 1635 edition of the English translation of Martin Luther’s commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Galathians, together with a copy of James Ussher’s De Graeca Septuaginta (London: John Crook, 1655), allowed us to mark the quicenternary of the publication of Luther’s theses in style.
There are also opportunities to get involved with the community in your workplace during the traineeship. Recently I got involved in planning the support staff ‘Away Day’ – running a pub-style quiz for 60-odd college staff is definitely one of the unexpected highlights of the traineeship so far!
Although a significant part of the work does amount to the standard fare you might expect, i.e. dealing with loans, processing new purchases and handling reader enquiries, there is definitely enough variety to keep you on your toes and make for a very enjoyable traineeship.
I look forward to discovering what Hilary term brings – and good luck to everyone applying to the trainee scheme!