Liam Livesley, St Hilda’s College Library

St Hilda’s is, I think, something of a special college. It was the last in Oxford to start admitting men, becoming co-educational in 2008. It is (I’m told) the only college east of the river Cherwell.  Our buildings are dotted around several acres of open gardens, rather than bound up in quadrangles. And, our 60,000+ holdings aren’t on SOLO (the university-wide catalogue) but can be perused instead through our own Heritage catalogue.

And now it’s where I work! I’m Liam, and I’m the graduate trainee at the Kathleen Major Library at St Hilda’s this year. I finished an MA in political theory at the University of Sheffield over the summer, and before that I read philosophy at Jesus College, Cambridge, so I’m currently learning to replace one set of jargon (e.g. court, supervision, bedder) with another (quad, tutorial, scout).

St Hilda’s main reading room, which opened in 1935 and is a treat if you’re a fan of oak panelling. [All photos taken (inexpertly) by the author.].

It’s an interesting time for the Hilda’s library at the moment, as we’re currently making the transition to self-service issue and return. A fair chunk of my time in the couple of weeks that I’ve been here has been spent electronically tagging books and troubleshooting the new equipment (should that be glowing/beeping and, if not, how do we stop it glowing/beeping?). Today’s new challenge is to work out how to add items like bookstands and keys to the system, and, in the latter case, where to source the large pieces of wood we think we might want to attach to them.  As you might expect, I’ve also spent a lot of time staffing our issue desk and processing and shelving books, which has been great for getting to know our readers and our catalogue.

An ongoing project of mine is to create more shelf space to clear the backlog of new books that currently have no home to go to. Our medicine and biology collections, for example, are housed in rolling stacks in our basement and are currently extremely congested (no medical pun intended). Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just moving stock around – instead, I’m having to virtually dismantle and rebuild our shelving, with the help of the delightfully-named shelf clips called “tonks”. I’m hoping to get this all finished as soon as possible as I imagine the amount of time I can spend lurking in the stacks will decrease dramatically once our undergrads return. I’m also hoping to start a project this term on surveying our damaged books and assessing whether they can be repaired in-house, or whether they should be sent off for more serious repairs or replaced.

L – Some of our rolling stacks in the Cinderford Trust Room. R – A bushel of tonks.

St Hilda’s is an extremely peaceful place to work. Only members of the College can regularly use the library (although we do get visitors, particularly to the Archives), and, tucked away down Cowley Place as we are, not many tourists find us. The Cherwell wends its way through the grounds, disturbed only by the ducks and the assorted punters of varying aptitude. We’re a very small library team, with only the Librarian, the Archivist, and myself at present as we await the arrival of our new Assistant Librarian. This is fantastic, not just because it means I know everyone I work with very well, but because I get to do a bit of everything and gain experience very quickly across the board.

The Cherwell saunters past the Milham Ford building.

We have a training session this afternoon at the Bodleian offices out at Osney Mead, so I’d better make the most of the rest of the morning and get back down to the stacks!

Chris Cottell, Christ Church Library

I was recently asked by a young prospective student from central London, “So what do you think of the Bullingdon club?”

The question wasn’t malicious- just curious. It’s an honest reflection of the many issues that the University of Oxford is currently contending with, balancing its roles as an internationally renowned centre of learning with its cultural history as a centre of class privilege. Working at Christ Church library, and as a recent Oxford graduate (from Hertford College), I will be dealing with these issues all year, and hopefully through this blog we’ll all show the more open, friendly and accessible side of Oxford through detailing our work at one of its most stereotypically closed institutions.

But for now? Top of my to-dos is shelving… so I think I’ll write this blog instead.

Taccio il Cielo in la Terra, Rovetta, 1629, Canto

First page of the Canto part of the madrigal Taccia il Cielo in la terra
(Rovetta, 1629) (Mus 484) [thanks, Alina!]

As an undergrad, I’d been into Christ Church  for occasional tutorials, but never seen the majority of the college. As it turns out, Christ Church is big- with seemingly infinite gardens (rectors’, deans’, fellows’, summer, winter, moon, cheese) and many quadrangles, through which flow an also apparently infinite stream of tourists, who seem to wake up much earlier than any current students.

As a rude introduction to college life, one of the earliest issues I had was not knowing what to say to tourists who would like to look around the library. Apparently, like a “broken record”, I should repeat that the library is for members only. It seemed a shame to shut out people who mostly would just like to wonder at the space that our students (and staff) inhabit and often take for granted- but if there was a possibility of them disturbing our readers, then there isn’t much else that can be done. Unlike most students, I’m rather fond of tourists: their constant presence reminds me how beautiful and full of history these spaces are, and through their presence they support the studies of all of our academics, providing a sustainable source of income for both the central Bodleian Library and many colleges.

Work in the library so far has mostly been processing, tagging, shelving and re-shelving- like Oxford’s other academic libraries, we’re trying to get all of our big jobs completed before the start of term rush. However, we’re currently losing a significant amount of space in our basement storage area due to a redevelopment of the buildings it is situated under, so we’re in the process of re-organising much of our basement stock. In fact, the whole quad is being redeveloped; as part of this plan, a future refurbishment of the library is on the calendar in a few years’ time, so it’s certainly worth the extra work now for the later rewards- though that will be well beyond my time here!

This shifting around of stock has meant that I get involved in lots of book moving, and to my great interest, has meant taking ownership of shelving the music score collection in the student library for the first time in a long while. Hopefully this means it will be borrowed, as it turns out that many of the titles are listed on SOLO under their names in foreign languages and have been impossible to find for many years!

[Image courtesy of David Stumpp,  Antiquarian Catologuer at Christ Church]

Perhaps the most exciting thing that’s happened so far is also the reason I am most eager to be working here at Christ Church. We have the largest college library staff, up to nine on a good day with fair weather, four of us working downstairs in the Student Library. The remainder of the staff work upstairs in the Upper Library, which houses much of our Special Collections, under the supervision of the Keeper of Special Collections, Dr Cristina Neagu, while the Archivist works separately in the archives. The library and archives hold tens of thousands of priceless materials currently being digitised, catalogued and regularly read (under strict supervision!) by readers and academics from the international community.

Recently, Alina, our Photographic and Special Collections Assistant, asked for my help with a project. A significant proportion of Alina’s job is photographic commissions, where a researcher asks for highly detailed reproductions of a particular item that we hold, generally for publication or because they are unavailable to view the item in person. A researcher had asked for photographs of the madrigal (an early type of choral piece) Taccia il Cielo in la terra (1629), from Rovetta’s Madrigali Concertati Libro Primo (Mus 484-488), a manuscript of early music of which we have a copy in Special Collections. Alina asked for my help identifying the piece of music in question, making my music degree significantly more useful than I could ever have expected.

Identifying the individual work was difficult as Mus 484-488 are a set of part-books: this means that the nine individual parts of the madrigal (six voice parts and three instrumental parts) are spread across five physical books. To increase the complexity, each individual part book also includes multiple collections of madrigals! After a struggle, we found the start of the piece, and noted that parts were arranged in pairs: two parts in each partbook, facing each other on opposite pages. This meant that the first violin part was on the opposite page to the highest voice part, et cetera down through the parts, leaving the basso continuo (the instrumental accompaniment part) in its own book. Cross-referencing sections between parts and between books, it was easy to identify where Taccia il Cielo began and ended, and Alina showed me how her camera set-up works, which involves a very expensive camera, a frame and even a vacuum!

Hopefully there will be more like this- Alina’s said she’d love for me to help more often- and I’m expecting the year will be varied. However, one thing’s for sure, as the arrival of students looms: there’ll always be something to do around here.

Now, I’d better get to that shelving…

A view across the back of Tom Quad, taken from Killcanon

A drab day in Christ Church is still pretty magical!

Tom Roberts, Taylor Institution Library

Hi, I’m Tom and I’m the trainee at the Taylor Institution Library this year.

Unlike many of the other trainees, immediately prior to taking up my position I was an undergraduate student. I graduated in July with a BA degree in History from the London School of Economics. I don’t have any prior experience of working in a library – my only previous job was as a sales assistant in a busy, grubby garden centre, an environment quite different from the Taylor’s quiet book stacks and grand décor! I feel very lucky to have started my library career in one of the Bodleian Libraries – it is the best possible place to get my first taste of working in an academic library.

The Taylor Institution is a beautiful, labyrinthine library that specialises in European languages, as well as Film Studies. It is split up into two parts – the Research Collection (of most use to those studying beyond undergraduate level) and the Teaching Collection (used primarily by undergraduates). Most of the time I am based at the Issue Desk, which is situated at the entrance to the Teaching Collection.

In my first few weeks here the most fundamental challenge I have been faced with is the difficult task of learning the layout of the library. It is fair to say that the Taylorian isn’t the easiest library to get to grips with, at least at first. However, the maze-like nature of the rooms found within this handsome building means that there is always something new to be discovered lurking amongst the towering stacks. When I haven’t been at training, I have also been gaining my first taste of the basics of library work: loaning and returning books, registering new readers, helping readers to find the material that they need, dealing with deliveries from the book storage facility in Swindon, and processing new books and DVDs (adding barcodes, security tags, etc.). I must admit though that, as the world’s least practical man, I’m not much good at wrapping new books in protective plastic.

Currently the library is not seeing much footfall, as term hasn’t started yet. I am grateful for this period of calm, before the inevitable storm that will no doubt arrive in the form of enthusiastic students come October – it has allowed me to ease myself into familiarity with the everyday tasks that will occupy me much of the time I am here. I am, however, looking forward to the arrival of the students, and I hope that I will be able to help them to access the materials that they need for their courses in the most pain-free way possible.

My first few weeks have been somewhat hectic and I still have a way to go towards memorising everything I need to and putting it all into practice, but I’m very much looking forward to the coming year in Oxford and everything that it brings.

Image courtesy of Taylor Institution Library

St John’s College Library: Trainee Introduction

A day in the life of a graduate trainee librarian, St John’s College.

Hello – my name is Rhiannon and I’m the graduate trainee at St John’s College Library. I’ve recently graduated from the University of York where I did my undergraduate degree in English literature.

Our readers at St John’s are all members of the College, from undergraduates to Fellows, and we provide core texts on a wide range of subjects. We also have Special Collections, including manuscripts and early printed books. As part of a small team, my work is very varied, with many opportunities for responsibility and personal projects.

9 am: social media. I start the day by updating the Library’s Facebook page. Today I have a new Special Collections blog post to advertise, sharing our texts from the Reformation. (I almost immediately get a text from my mum telling me I’ve made a spelling error in the blog.)

9:30 – 11 am: processing books. This is the technical services side of the job. I classify texts and create holdings records for new stock, making it available to our readers. This includes brand new books, and older texts which might be donations or unrecorded items from the Library stores.

11 am – 12:30 pm: reader services. A visiting academic has come to look at an early printed book, so I work in the beautiful Old Library to supervise his study and make sure he gets the information he needs. The Old Library houses our Special Collections; as well as being a space to preserve and display wonderful old texts, it is very much a working library. Visitors often come from far and wide to consult unique items. While I supervise, I get on with some writing, including a Halloween themed blog post for the Special Collection blog.

12:30pm – 1:30 pm: lunchtime! A significant perk of working in a College Library is free lunch every day in the Hall. Today is a hearty pasta bake.

1:30pm – 3:30pm: donations. The Deputy Librarian and I sort through a new batch of donated books, choosing which books would be useful for our Library, which I then process. Donations provide some interesting and unusual texts; in this case, there is a wide array of theological books. Excitingly, one contains a 1940s bus ticket!

3:30pm – 4pm: RFID labels. Bringing the library up to date, one of our projects this year is to put RFID labels in all borrowable books. This will prepare them for use at self-issue machines in the new library building, due to open in a few months.

4pm – 5pm: shelving. Some good old-fashioned shelving! The library has two rooms of open shelves: the Paddy Room on the ground floor, mainly for sciences, and the Laudian Library on the first floor, mainly for humanities.

5pm: closing up. During the Vacation we close at 5pm, so I switch off all the lights and make sure there are no readers hidden away who have lost track of time.

Throughout the day, readers and visitors come in with queries and items to return. Most of my work is done at the Issue Desk so I’m always on hand to greet and assist readers.

Welcome to our 2017-18 trainees!

We welcomed our new trainees to Oxford this week and we have a record 25 trainees this year in total.  Eleven of our trainees are based in our Bodleian Libraries, 8 in our colleges and we have 6 Digital Archives trainees too. St Hugh’s College and Christ Church College have recruited trainees again this year after a break or a couple of years. They have a packed training programme this term and they begin their training in resource discovery and OLIS this week. They are looking forward to their tour of the Bodleian and drinks in the Divinity School next week where Laura How, Head of Administration and Finance, will welcome them to the libraries.

Our trainees will be introducing themselves on the trainee blog over the next week or two, so do follow their progress throughout the year. Do say hello if you happen to spot any of them. We wish them a happy and successful year with us in Oxford!

The 2017-18 trainees at the welcome session

Showcase Presentations 2017

As promised, here are the presentations given by the 2016-17 trainees at our Showcase in July.

All the PowerPoint slides, and Stephanie Bushell’s video presentation, can be found here: http://bit.ly/2fvhCFg

Chantal van den Berg’s video presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bisZh0AicQQ

Sophie Welsh’s Prezi can be found here: http://prezi.com/kihswng7cpmz/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Thanks again to all the trainees for working so hard on these presentations.  We all learnt a lot from hearing about each other’s projects.

TRIPS TO LONDON LIBRARIES

On the morning of Wednesday 5th July, this year’s Graduate Trainees met at Oxford station for perhaps the most eagerly awaited trainee trip: The visits to two specialist libraries across the capital. This year, trainees could decide to visit the Guardian Library, the Natural History Museum Library, the London Library, and the British Film Institute Library. As this visit was the highlight of the year for many trainees, we have therefore decided to write a few words about the day and what we learned from visiting these four unique libraries!

THE GUARDIAN LIBRARY

For the morning session, eight of the trainees had decided to visit the library of the Guardian and Observer newspapers. Located in a light and airy high rise just to the north of King’s Cross Station, it was immediately apparent when entering the building and meeting the Information Manger that both the library and the role of a librarian at a news organisation were very different to the world of academic libraries we had grown accustomed to in Oxford. Instead of the gothic exteriors, ancient tomes, and wooden panelling of many of the Bodleian Libraries, on our tour of the newspaper offices we encountered instead a busy open plan office stretching around the entire building and a rather small library tucked away in the corner.

The entrance to the Guardian offices (Photo credit: Will Shire)

In his informative talk during our visit, the Information Manager explained why this was the case. In a world of 24 hour news and broadband connectivity, the role of the librarian at all media organisations has changed considerably over the last few decades. Before the internet, he explained, all large newspapers required a librarian to manage a ‘cuttings library’, filled with stories taken from all the major newspapers and meticulously organised by their subject – either about a particular event or about the activities of a well-known person. As technology advanced and journalists started to do the majority of their work online, the role of the librarian therefore also changed. The cuttings library still exists, but on top of managing this, the information team now use the Guardian collections to improve the journalism in other ways. He explained that their in depth information knowledge gained from librarianship means that they are well placed to answer any complicated research enquiries from journalists or to even create their own pieces following statistical analysis and insight gained from managing the Guardian Library’s holdings. Although technology is affecting librarianship across all sectors, this talk therefore demonstrated that the skills of librarians remain useful in a digitally connected world.

The tour that we had of the offices concluded with a visit to the offices of the Guardian’s archives team, which also works closely with the library. The two archivists emphasised the importance of their collections, as they not only provide a unique glimpse of the changing journalism industry in the UK, but can also act as a springboard for a wide variety of researchers, as newspaper articles are the first response to current events. The archives contain several back editions of the Observer and Guardian newspapers, and several artefacts relevant to their journalism, such as the Edward Snowdon laptops that are now of national importance.

It was excellent to have the opportunity to visit the media library of one of the most well-known newspapers in the country, and the talks gave us a well-rounded introduction into another aspect of librarianship that few of the trainees had prior knowledge of or considered as a career path.

Written by Will Shire, Taylor and PTFL trainee

THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM LIBRARY

Those of us fortunate enough (perhaps ‘judicious’ might be a better term – who wouldn’t want to stroll beneath a 25.2 metre-long floating blue whale skeleton?) to bid to visit the NHM were hoping for a morning of quirks and curiosities.  Happily, we were not to be disappointed.

Seated amidst the stuffed rarities and sweeping bookshelves of the Reading Room we were treated to two very intriguing talks delivered by the Researcher Services Librarian and the Special Collections Librarian, which covered (amongst other things) mermaids, woodworm, and the dangers of voyaging in the 18th century.

We were able to hear about the development of the existing collections and received an overview of some of the topics represented in the library today such as Palaeontology, Botany, Entomology, Zoology, Ornithology, Anthropology and Mineralogy.

The trainees at the Natural History Museum Library (Photo credit: NHM twitter feed, originally posted on 5th July, 2017)

There was also a chance to take a closer look at some of the NHM’s most fascinating manuscripts and special collections including a letter penned by Charles Darwin and the Endeavour botanical illustrations.  Our guides were friendly and very knowledgeable and I feel that we all benefitted from our exposure to a library so entirely different to those that many of us are used to.

The NHM has been steadily acquiring material since 1881 and hosts readers from a variety of backgrounds on a daily basis.  There is a growing emphasis on the importance of digitisation across libraries and archives at present and consequently the NHM aims to upload around 25,000 items to the Biodiversity Heritage Library every single month, ensuring that scholars are able to access the materials they need wherever they are located.  NHM staff have produced publications on a plethora of interesting topics and are often found engaging in outreach activities such as ‘Nature Live’ (free discussions held in Attenborough Studio, by all accounts not to be missed!).

I’d like to thank our hosts for their time and efforts in showing us around this magnificent institution.  I left the NHM with a whole new appreciation of the magnitude of that 83 foot whale skeleton, but also with a better awareness of the sheer scale of the NHM library and archival operations, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

You can keep up to date with the latest goings-on at the NHM by following them on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/NHM_Library.

Written by Steph Bushell, All Souls College trainee

THE LONDON LIBRARY

Following our respective morning sessions, eight of the trainees travelled to 14 St James’ Square to visit the famous London Library in the afternoon. From the outside this library looks rather small, as it appears to just fill one small building tucked into the corner of the square. Once we entered, however, it became clear that appearances can definitely be deceiving!

The entrance to the London Library (Photo credit: Sophie Welsh)

Upon entering the building, we were met by the Head of Membership Services and she proceeded to give us a very informative tour through the labyrinthine London Library. Although the library originally only occupied the small entrance building on St James’ Square, she told us that it had continued to grow since its foundation in 1841 and had gradually expanded into the adjacent buildings. On our tour, we therefore climbed several sets of stairs, and saw beautiful cast iron stacks, filled with levels of books both above and below us as far as we could see.

Whilst we were looking at the stacks, we were given a short introduction into the unique classification scheme at the London Library. Unlike the academic libraries in Oxford, the London Library is designed for browsing, and the shelfmark system is therefore designed accordingly. Instead of the neat labels with individual shelfmarks in the Bodleian Libraries, the London Library’s books are arranged alphabetically by individual categories designed in the Victorian period. This means that browsing must be really fun, as readers not only have to browse the shelves to find a specific book (and hopefully encountering other interesting titles whilst they do so), but also have to think like a Victorian to find the books they need. Books on Ethiopia are consequently still shelved under A for Abyssinia, as this was the name of the country when the scheme was developed! As the library has no formal weeding policy and keeps 95% of its material on the open shelves, it is therefore common to find a modern book (such as one on Ethiopian History) nestled next to a Victorian copy on a similar topic.

The beautiful stacks in the London Library (Photo credit: Sophie Welsh)

After looking at the stacks, we then had a tour of the main reading rooms. Whilst we were looking through these rooms, our tour guide gave us several interesting anecdotes on the history of the library. We learned, therefore, about the heroic efforts of the readers to rescue as many books as possible after one of the rooms was hit by a German bomb during the Second World War, and also discovered more about the famous literary figures associated with the library. These range from T.S Eliot, a long serving President of the Library, to Joseph Conrad, Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf, and Siegfried Sassoon who were all members.

Our visit to the London Library was a really enjoyable experience. As it is a private members library, it was interesting to compare this library with the academic libraries we are used to in Oxford, and to see how this affects library organisation as it has created a library based around browsing and quick access to the majority of material. It is without doubt a unique library, and if I ever live in London and have enough money for the membership fees, I would definitely like to join in the future!

Written by Will Shire, Taylor and PTFL trainee

BFI REUBEN LIBRARY

On the way to the BFI (Photo credit: Hannah Medworth)

Arriving at the British Film Institute at Southbank after lunch on a ridiculously sunny day (see Hannah’s photo!), half the trainees met with the Librarian for Reader Services for the BFI Reuben Library. First of all, she took us to the library’s main reading room and spoke with us about what her library offers and how it functions, along with a brief history. We learnt a lot. For example, we were told that the library has recently seen a surge of A-Level pupils and school-aged readers. We also learnt about the library’s stance on membership; previously it had been a members’ library which charged a small membership fee but now it is free for everybody to use.

After the introduction, we were given a demonstration of the library’s collections database which holds information on more than 800,000 film titles. The database itself was quite different to ones we as trainees are familiar with in our university libraries. When using SOLO, we may filter by ‘physical items’ or ‘electronic resources’, but at the BFI it is the norm to begin a search while keeping an eye out for symbols indicating a much larger range of materials:

Materials available at the BFI Reuben Library (From collections-search.bfi.org.uk/web)

Following this, if you are searching to view a film – or as it is referred to at the BFI, searching to access ‘moving image material’ – there may be several different ‘manifestations’ to choose from. This has been explained to be roughly equivalent to different editions or publications of a book. These different manifestations could include film, digital copies, VHS cassettes, audio tapes, and film negatives – all of which could be subdivided by gauge, release print, or combination.

We were also shown some of the exciting projects going on at the BFI, from their streaming service – BFIPLAYER – to the fascinating Britain On Film. The latter is a web interface where you can find films made locally for a certain area: documentaries, home films, shorts and even feature films.

Next we were taken downstairs to visit the library’s stacks. There we received two treats tailor-made for librarians: bookmarks and a recommendation of a film with a particularly inspiring librarian character: Desk Set (1957) starring Katharine Hepburn. Our tour guide also mentioned an article she had written for the BFI website about the best librarians on screen (not, as she said, just on film, else you have to miss out Giles on Buffy): http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-best-librarians-screen

It was here too that the Librarian for Reader Services explained how she had had to fight against cuts to the library, whether to its staffing, funding or collections, leaving us with the impression that as a librarian it is important to be a passionate and vocal advocate for libraries.

Written by Connie Bettison, St John’s College trainee

So that’s a short guide to our hugely enjoyable day visiting some beautiful libraries across London! The day was definitely one of the best visits we have been on throughout our year, and I’m sure I can speak for all trainees when I say that I am very grateful to Staff Development for organising everything and to the individual staff members at the respective libraries who made time for us. It was a great way to end our traineeship, and gave us a fascinating insight into several libraries that are completely different to the ones that we are familiar with in Oxford.

Trainee Showcase – Andrew Bax’s Guest Lecture

Thank you very much to everyone who came to our Trainee Showcase on 12th July.  We really appreciated your support.

One of the highlights of the day was the guest lecture by publisher Andrew Bax.  For anyone who missed it, or would like to revisit it, the full script is below.  Many thanks again to Andrew for preparing this interesting and informative talk.

The trainees’ presentation slides will follow soon!

 

Oxford, as we all know, is an extraordinary place. The Bookseller, the UK’s trade magazine for publishers and booksellers revealed, some years ago, that the city of Oxford had the greatest density of published authors in the world. It also discovered that over 200 publishing companies were registered in Oxford, including my own.

I got into publishing by accident. In 1965 I was young, irresponsible and in Oxford without a job. A friend told me that there were always vacancies for science graduates at a firm called Pergamon Press. I had only five ‘O’ levels but applied anyway – and was accepted. I joined a team of about ten handling the production of academic journals from offices in Headington Hill Hall, now part of Brooke’s University. Initially, my working space was a windowsill and the top of a filing cabinet in the attic above the boss’s bedroom. The boss was called Robert Maxwell.

Robert Maxwell acquired his name by deed pole in 1948. His real name was Jan Hoch and he originated from that turbulent part of eastern Europe that changed from Czechoslovakia to Hungary and is now part of Ukraine. His family were Jewish cattle dealers and, after the Nazis invaded, most of them were taken to Auschwitz, where they died. Young Jan had escaped however, and joined the Czechoslovak Army in exile and, later, the Royal Staffordshire Regiment. He saw active service across Europe, was awarded the MC and, at the end of the war, was promoted to the rank of Captain. He was then sent to Berlin as part of the mission to revive the German economy, and was appointed to the publishing house, Springer Verlag. Springer was sitting on valuable scientific research and, recognising the opportunity, Maxwell had it translated into English and published it through a company he formed for the purpose. That was the beginning of Pergamon Press. In preparation for this talk I discovered that Pergamon began as a collaboration with a certain Paul Rosebaud who had been a senior scientist in the Nazi hierarchy. Throughout the war, however, he had been secretly spying for Britain.

When the world finally emerged from the devastation of World War II, governments and universities began to invest heavily in scientific research. Then, as now, it was vital for those involved in such work to be aware of what was happening in other centres. Then, as now, there was competition and collaboration, often fuelled by personal ambition. The established publishers were slow on the uptake and communication was often achieved through correspondence and international conferences.

Enter Robert Maxwell. One of his techniques was to use an international conference to launch a new journal. After a visit by Maxwell, often at the conference itself, the host academic was persuaded to continue his good work by editing a new journal in the subject, and the conference papers would provide the first issue. Everyone working in the field wanted to have their work published in the journal and library funds were used to pay for it. Thus it was that a pile of manuscripts was delivered to my desk for a new journal to be called Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer. Maxwell had brought them with him from a conference in Rio de Janeiro. That journal, I see, is now in its 200th volume and has an in-print price of £6742. This was happening all the time and journals were being launched in subjects we’d hardly heard of. Editors, usually unpaid, competed for the best papers, frequency of publication was increased and, of course, the price. Then Maxwell introduced page charges so that contributors had to pay for the privilege of publication, and their library for the privilege of subscribing. For a while he took advantage of currency fluctuations so that customers might he invoiced in US dollars one day and Japanese yen the next. In books he invented a series called the Commonwealth Library for which he received a guaranteed order from the Commonwealth Office for 500 copies of each title published. As you can imagine, that series grew very rapidly, often from material culled from the journals. While all this was going on he was also Labour MP for Buckingham. And all that happened during the 18 months I was with Pergamon.

Eighteen months was about average. If you stayed any longer you were liable to be sacked or relocated anywhere in the world. I was getting married and this kind of uncertainty was just too exciting. Maxwell was a tyrant, a man of immense dynamism and creative energy and, eventually, a fraudster on a massive scale. There is no time here to cover the Maxwell story but, towards the beginning of the 1990s his empire began to unravel and, in desperation, he plundered his employee’s pension scheme to the tune of some £440million. He died by falling from his yacht off the Canary Islands and debate still rages about whether he jumped or whether he was pushed. Afterwards, he was found to have some 300 companies, most of which only he knew about. He had also been involved in arms deals between eastern Europe and Israel, and it is probable that he had been an agent for Mossad. He is buried in Jerusalem.

After Pergamon I joined part of the Blackwell empire. There were about a dozen of us in offices next to The Bear in Alfred Street. I was with the firm for 20 years during which time it expanded rapidly, moving to its own purpose-built premises in Osney Mead which are now part of the Bodleian and, eventually, employing over 200 people in offices in five countries. It was run by another big character, Per Saugman, who I got to know quite well. As a young man he was employed in the bookshop as part of an exchange scheme with the firm of Munksgaard in Copenhagen. It seems he quickly outgrew the challenges of bookselling so, in 1957, he was invited to revive an old publishing imprint, Blackwell Scientific Publications, which had been dormant for years. It was suggested that, with the growth of the NHS, he should consider medicine.

Per knew nothing about medicine but he thought he would start with blood. So, like Maxwell, he went to a conference in London where he announced his intention to launch the British Journal of Haematology. The leading lights in the field were anxious to become involved and it is now on Volume 177 with an in-print subscription price of £1777. It was the beginning of a substantial journal portfolio. With books his technique was to ‘seek advice’ from the highest authority on what topics are inadequately covered and who might be best to write them. Ego and ambition drove these men and, in those days it was usually men and, in the end, these chaps recommended themselves, which is what Per wanted all along. However, for authors, the financial rewards were modest. The international expert on Megaloblastic Anaemias told me that his fat, expensive monograph had ruined his health and his marriage and that on calculating his royalties he had earned just 4p an hour.

Whereas Maxwell got his way be terrifying people, Per did it with charm. He was articulate and terrific company; if he was speaking here instead of me he would do so without stumbling and without notes. He had his frailties though; there was a bit of Swiss bankery and he was a terrible womaniser.

Blackwell provided me with a series of lucky breaks. After a short time in journals I took on publicity, sales and marketing. Except we weren’t allowed to call it that because the patriarch of the firm, Sir Basil Blackwell, believed that ‘good books sell themselves’ so anything advertised was automatically deemed to be suspect. After a few years the director to whom I was reporting became ill and was off work for a while. I stepped into his shoes and, apart from one big mistake, I did quite well. The big mistake caused an almighty row with our partners in North America, the C.V. Mosby Company and I was dispatched to St Louis, Missouri to be eaten alive by their management team. In the end it was quite a tame affair. I was ushered into the president’s suite, where everyone was hushed and deferential, and then into the office of the great man himself, in which the carpet was so think you almost waded through it. We talked about this and that and, after a decent interval, he considered that honour was satisfied and the meeting was over. Years later I bumped into him at the Frankfurt Book Fair; he was working as a sales rep. So whatever mistake he made, it was bigger than mine.

C.V. Mosby was one of a number of US publishers for which we were stock-holding agents for Europe, often with reciprocal arrangements in America. One of these was CRC Press. CRC stands for the Chemical Rubber Company and their business began in manufacturing rubber valves and tubes for use in laboratories. One of their best-selling items was a rubber apron with a pocket into which they inserted a free booklet called the Handbook of Chemistry & Physics. That booklet proved to be so popular that people were buying the apron just to obtain the Handbook. Eventually they gave up the rubbery stuff and became publishers. By the time we were involved that Handbook was published annually with over 2500 pages, and had spawned many others.

All this meant that we had a lot of books to sell. No-one in the firm had taken on the role before but, through trial and error, I managed to hold down the job and eventually headed up a marketing department of 12 which, at one point included Robert Maxwell’s son, Kevin.

One thing I managed to do quite well was to sell books in bulk to the pharmaceutical industry. Books seemed less like a bribe than the lavish hospitality that such companies gave to those doctors who prescribed their drugs. I was negotiating one particular deal as the board of Blackwell Scientific Publications was in the throes of succession planning. It was a very big deal, and complicated, requiring the directors to sign up to something new. But they were too distracted by other concerns and rejected it. So I reported back to the pharmaceutical company that Blackwell wouldn’t do it, but that I would. Somehow I got away with it. I had six days to register a company, find an office, print some visiting cards and sign the contract. That was on 6 June 1987 and was the beginning of my own company, Radcliffe Publishing. I didn’t have a shadow of Maxwell’s dynamism or a fraction of Per Saugman’s personality, but those guys taught me a lot.

At that time Margaret Thatcher was overhauling things as prime minister and Kenneth Clarke, as her Minister for Health, was embarking on a radical reform of the NHS. Part of this involved upgrading the quality of primary care. GPs had little on-going training, were rarely supervised and were badly paid but suddenly they found themselves under great pressure to improve their service, with the prospect of greatly increasing their earnings. My Blackwell days had opened doors to a lot of useful contacts, including the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union. Soon after Radcliffe started I had a call from the BMA asking me to attend an urgent meeting in London that same morning. Within an hour I had agreed to publish a series of books on the Business Side of General Practice; the BMA’s senior negotiator wrote the first one in nine weeks and we published it in another nine weeks. That was very fast, it sold in huge numbers and put us on the map. Another in the series sold 47,000 copies even though there were only 25,000 GPs at the time; that was because I had sold it to four pharmaceutical companies, working in competition. As the marketing manager of Glaxo told me ‘all’s fair in love, war and pharmaceutical advertising.’

Radcliffe started life in a single room in the Jam Factory in Park End Street; we expanded into a second room then moved to a light industrial unit in Osney Mead, then into a second one. In 1995 we moved again, into a beautiful Victorian house in Abingdon. By then we were employing about 15 people, many of them former colleague from Blackwell. They were strongly motivated by the success we were enjoying. We had found our niche in primary care; it was a very big niche and we were providing serious competition to the established publishers. Their reaction was to try to buy us; I had enquires from OUP, Churchill-Livingstone, Taylor & Francis and my old employers, Blackwell. They were talking millions and I rejected all offers; we were having just too much fun. It was too good to last though.

The first problem was the internet which undermined all the traditional publishing models and caused confusion throughout the industry, not just for us at Radcliffe. We did, however, invent something called Radcliffe Interactive. This hosted several consumer-related portals, including Divorce Online which is still going. It was financed by someone I first knew as a stationery salesman when I first joined Blackwell. He had gone on to become a publisher himself, and like Radcliffe, made himself troublesome to his rivals. However, when Routledge offered to buy him out, unlike me, he said yes. With the proceeds he became a business angel, financing start ups from an office he rented from us in our Abingdon home. Sadly we have lost touch now but when we last met he had a manor house in Berkshire, a house in California and a vineyard in South Africa.

Our second problem was that, having rejected all takeovers, our rivals decided to close in on us and, eventually, we ceased to be unique. So from around 2000 onwards we plateaued. I was also becoming aware of my own limitations; I had an inadequate grasp of financial management and I didn’t understand the internet so I decided my time was up. I felt we needed new blood at the top but that view was not shared by my colleagues; we had worked together for a long time and we all felt a strong loyalty to the company and to each other. In the end I promoted our marketing manager to managing director and elevated myself to chairman.

In 2010 Radcliffe was acquired by a firm called Electric Word whose owners seemed only interested in manipulating the price on the Stock Exchange and publishing suffered as a consequence. After a few years they sold Radcliffe to Taylor & Francis which, by then, had itself become part of a huge international communications conglomerate called Informa which included Routledge and CRC Press, names I have mentioned earlier. However, I am pleased to be able to tell you that the Radcliffe imprint continues but for reasons I cannot begin to understand, it publishes from the CRC offices in Boca Raton, Florida.

And that is where I was going to end this little talk but, in her biographical notes Jessica mentioned Bombus Books. This is the imprint of Oxford Inc, a group of writers to which I belong and which has self-published a few books of fiction and non-fiction. Last year we launched a writing competition for stories based on the No 13 bus which plies between the station and John Radcliffe Hospital. The best entries appeared in Double-Decker, available from Blackwells and other good bookshops, and three of the stories are by Jessica. That is how we came to meet and, I guess, why I am standing here today.

 

Graduate trainee training continued: the end of Hilary Term and the start of Trinity Term

Our training afternoons are scheduled in line with the eight-week terms of Oxford, the names of which can bemuse newcomers to the university, though now, at the end of Trinity Term, I think that I have assimilated it. Since the last update in February, there have been many more training courses, including lots of library visits—everyone likes a library visit.

First, though, there were several talks by people working elsewhere in the Bodleian and even in other sectors, such as the session on the book trade, where we heard from people who work at Blackwell’s and the antiquarian dealer Quaritch. This was an interesting look into a different, though related, area of work. Talks by those who worked at Osney in the Collections and Resource Description department, which is a central Bodleian Libraries department, were also very interesting. This covered areas such as the processes of acquisitions (ordering, processing, and all the many and diverse tasks attached, on behalf of the main Bodleian and several smaller libraries), electronic resources (the only element of the Bodleian that is completely centralised), legal deposit operations (including developments in electronic legal deposit), resource description and open access. Much of the information here was on things that I already knew about tangentially through my work at the Law Library, or explanations of mysterious processes that I know of but didn’t know the background of. It made me feel part of the community, however, being able to nod wisely at the mention of Swets’ demise or the fact that legal deposit books beginning with ‘M’ are catalogued at Osney as part of the Shared Cataloguing Programme run by the British library.

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Blackwell’s bookshop, where much of my trainee wages have been spent this year.

In Trinity Term we have also had talks from subject librarians on the role of subject consultant, and talks by the Head of Assessment and the Head of Heritage Science for the Bodleian Libraries. We learnt that a liaison librarian, a reference librarian and a research support librarian may be a similar job to a subject consultant, but that by the same token, a subject librarian’s role is very particular to their institution and their department. The various responsibilities were covered, from those to do with the subject collection and library management duties, to reader services, library projects and outreach and conferences. We then had an exercise on handling budgets, which saw my team – in charge of the slightly larger budget for science – overspend by £14,000. Before any future employers bury their heads in their hands, I’d like to point out that the game was rigged! It was pre-ordained that science’s budget would be the one greatest hit by expensive e-journal packages and VAT increases, no matter how conservative we were with our money initially. We definitely kept our readers happy with lots of resources though, even though the central finance department probably wouldn’t be best pleased. In the later set of talks, Frankie Wilson, Head of Assessment, told us all about how to gain meaningful feedback on library services, while David Howell showed us round his bespoke lab in the Weston Library in order to tell us a bit about the role of science in uncovering library treasures, a unique aid to research and one that hit the headlines when David’s hyperspectrometry revealed an ancient Mexican codex palimpsest.

Then there were the library visits. First, to the digital archives and then to All Souls’ Codrington Library, which was a striking contrast between the old and the new: the latest in digital archiving systems at the Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts department and the long tradition in All Souls’ Codrington Library, founded in the fifteenth century. At BEAM, we learnt that a hard drive has roughly half the lifetime of a cassette tape, and digital archiving seeks to preserve many types of slowly obsolescing technologies. The challenge of collecting and storing data from diverse electronic mediums, including floppy disks, CDs and flash drives, is considerable, and we learnt about the various strategies that are in place for each of them. There is also the task of archiving the web, and the Bodleian has several areas of interest that are regularly crawled and archived, a process that is also not without its challenges. By contrast, at the Codrington, the weight of centuries lingers in the air. The beautiful hall and the wonderful librarians’ office (with its spiral staircase and wall-to-wall books, it’s every bookworm’s dream) have a history all of their own, and we had a talk from the librarian, Gaye, on both the library and some of its collections. We heard about our fellow trainee and her role in the small library team, and had the chance to ask some questions.

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The main hall of Codrington Library.

Next there was the Alexander Library of Ornithology, the Sherardian Library and the Radcliffe Science Library, which were fascinating, despite not having a single science degree among us. In the Sherardian, we heard about the Herbarium, where pressed plants that act as authority records for plant types, and are accompanied by the print collections which are used alongside the library of plants in order to support current and historical research in botany. We saw a first edition of Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’, and William Dampier’s account of his circumnavigations of the globe which brought a wealth of knowledge back to Britain (as well as being the inspiration for books such as R.L. Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’), and we also learnt about figures such as Sherard, Druce, and Fielding, important for the Oxford collections. At the RSL, after a quick tour, the pièce de résistance was clearly the 3-D printer. Having been sceptical about when I first saw it on the itinerary, I went away understanding how such technology services fit into the RSL’s ethos and enthusiastic about what we’d be shown. By offering access to such technology early on, as they did with e-book readers and will be doing with virtual reality hardware, the RSL is able to grant students and researchers access to technology that would be hard to find elsewhere, and facilitate learning through their services—in other words, exactly what a library is there for.

Vol. 01[1], t.4: Fraxinus Ornus

A page from the Flora Graeca at the Sherardian Library, digitally available.

More recently, in Trinity Term, we have branched out from academia and visited Summertown Public Library and the Cairns Library at John Radcliffe Hospital. Both gave us insights into these areas of librarianship, public and medical, which bring different daily tasks, rewards, and challenges. In particular, I was impressed by Summertown library’s collaboration with the local council, where council workers and careers advisors came to meet people in drop-in sessions to get involved in two-way training with library staff, meaning that access to computers and internet – needed for everything from job applications to housing and benefit forms – could be coupled with some of the necessary context from professionals. It just goes to show how essential libraries can be. Meanwhile, at the Cairns library, a particular added feature of medical librarianship that I enjoyed hearing about was the literature searches conducted by the librarians—yes, for free—on behalf of the doctors.

Finally, there were a few extra courses that I went on, Advanced Searching: overview of Google and alternative search tools, Annual Review Training for Reviewees, and Practical Skills: minute taking. These were all relevant for my work in the Law Library, and in particular the course on advanced searching with Google, run by Karen Blakeman, was very interesting and has affected the way that I search online. The final run of training in Trinity Term will mark the end of our afternoon sessions, and it will culminate in the Trainee Showcase, where we give presentations on the projects that we have undertaken throughout the year.

A day in the life of a Graduate Trainee:

As we are now approaching the final months of the Graduate Trainee year, I thought I’d write a quick post detailing what I’ve been up to throughout the last twelve months! Although my work has changed throughout the year, in this post I have tried to describe a “typical” day in my library; detailing both the routine activities I do virtually every day and giving a snapshot of the individual projects that have changed throughout the year.

Here it is:

9.00 – Arrive at work and prepare the library for opening at 9.30. This involves switching on the Desk and SOLO quick search computers, setting out the cash boxes ready for collecting fines, and opening some windows in the main reading room and computer room to let some air circulate. I will also normally do a spot check of the library; tidying up anything left from the previous evening and shelving any books left on tables.

9.10-9.30 – Once the library is ready to open, I then start Aleph (the University’s Library Management System) on both desk computers, and open my email inbox. Afterwards, I download the daily “Lapse List”, which contains a list of both the Bodleian and PTFL books that need to be returned to the Book Storage Facility in Swindon every day. I then find these books on their shelves by the main desk, process them, and place them in the box to be collected by the delivery van at lunch time. If my colleague has not already done so, I will also check the Book Returns Box to check whether any books have been returned to the library outside of opening hours, and then return them to the shelves.

9.30-11.00 – Now that the library is open, readers start to enter and I therefore start my everyday desk duties. As it is now close to exam time, several readers are entering the library returning or borrowing books, but there are also regular questions from readers both in person and on the telephone, and I advise them on a case-by-case basis. This week, for example, I have answered questions about the payment of fines, the use of the Bodleian wide printing system (PCAS), the location of resources both in the PTFL and in the wider Bodleian libraries, and had to chase up books for readers that had not been returned on time.

When readers are not at the desk, I also start to reply to any emails that come through either to my own inbox or to the generic library inbox. These can be from readers asking questions about resources, or from colleagues asking me to complete specific tasks. Additionally, I help to process any fines payments coming through from the online store and reserve places on information skills sessions run by the library.

11.00 – Tea Break!

11.10 – 13.00 – In addition to my regular desk duties and answering email enquiries, as the day goes on I normally take the opportunity to work on one of my individual trainee projects when the desk is quiet. These have been varied throughout the year, and have changed depending on the individual needs of the library. So far, I have written a blog post advertising the library’s collections to a wider audience, created a new PowerPoint presentation for the Library Information Screen, and taken part in a project to reclassify the remaining Theology classification to Library of Congress (more details to follow in my presentation for the Trainee showcase!).

13.00 – 14.00 – Lunch!

14.00 – 15.00 – Shortly after 2pm, the Bodleian delivery van usually comes to collect the outgoing Closed Stack Books and to drop off any books that have been ordered in the last 24 hours from the Book Storage Facility in Swindon. After they are delivered, I process any new books with colleagues and then place them on the reservation shelf at the Enquiry Desk. When they are processed, a reader gets an email informing them that their request has arrived and they can then come to the desk to collect it. After processing the stack books, I normally continue on the desk, answering any further enquiries and shelving any returned books once I have any spare time.

15.00 – Tea Break!

15.10 – 16.45 – For the past few months, in the afternoons I have often been in the back library office as we are currently completing a weeding project. As we are trying to make space in the library for new acquisitions, I have been selecting low use books from the open shelves and processing them ready for ingest into the Book Storage Facility. I therefore need to replace the barcode on these books and update their catalogue record to reflect their new location. Once they have been processed, these books are placed in a special ingest box and collected by the Bodleian delivery van the following day.

16.45 – 17.15 – If it is not term-time, in the last half an hour of the day I help other colleagues to prepare the library for closing at 5pm. This process is basically the reverse of the opening procedure, but we always make sure that we check all areas of the library for any stray readers before we close the building! As it is currently term-time, I normally hand over to the evening staff at this time at the moment, unless I am on an evening shift myself of course. The library then closes at 7pm.