Hello! I’m Daniel, the Quaritch graduate trainee at the Weston Library, which houses the Bodleian’s Special Collections. I’m based in the Rare Books and Early Modern Manuscripts department, which handles a range of projects, enquiries, and outreach. I studied English here at Oxford, and worked part-time in several Bodleian libraries after graduating in 2018, picking up a range of technical skills along the way and working with some incredible people. One month into the traineeship, I’ve got my own messy desk (very libraryish, I’m told), a mountainous card catalogue to sort through, three floors of underground stacks to memorise, and more analytical bibliography to learn than I can hope to remember — and I’m more certain than ever that I want a career in rare books.
At the Weston, subject specialists mingle with polyglots and techies; there are always exhibitions to prepare for, just as there are always researchers to assist; there are all kinds of lectures, seminars, and hands-on workshops. In short, behind the studious solemnity of its two Reading Rooms, the Weston is constantly moving (and not just because of Trinity College’s building works next door). It’s a truly phenomenal place to work.
From day one, I’ve had the opportunity to handle early printed material, such as Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1543) and Hooke’s Micrographia (1665) for an overseas author writing about ‘remarkable books’. Another research enquiry involved comparing bindings in our Edmund Malone collection (including rebound volumes containing the earliest Shakespeare Quartos!) to identify the trademark tools of the German binder Christian Samuel Kalthoeber. One morning, I was deep in the Weston’s labyrinthine underground stacks, wrapping up original Tolkien watercolours in polythene for transport to the Bibliothèque Nationale. This week, I’m hunting down Samuel Johnson’s signature in a book that the Bodleian may or may not possess. It’s surreal, and sometimes challenging, to be working with material as special as this in quite ‘normal’ contexts such as stamping, barcoding, wrapping, or photographing, and really reflective of the methodical, technical skills that form an essential part of working in special collections.
When I’m not on training courses or learning cataloguing in the office, I’m moonlighting in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, assisting the Librarian with item-level captions for her upcoming exhibition in the Treasury. Exhibitions at the Weston channel the wealth of academic expertise from all kinds of fascinating subject areas, and I’d love to curate my own some day.
In the meantime, my own traineeship project for the year is to lay the groundwork for digitising some 3000 fine bindings in the Broxbourne collection, from private press books to manuscript genealogies of the kings of England. I’ll be talking more about this, and the importance of widening access to collections in the digital age, in future blog posts. Until then, you can check on the progress of the project here.