Sam Ryan, History Faculty Library


The Camera itself

Hello, my name is Sam and I am this year’s Graduate Trainee at the Bodleian History Faculty Library. In terms of background I graduated from Northumbria University with a History degree a couple of years ago. I am relatively new to librarianship. What experience I have is chiefly from the related area of special collections, so naturally starting off in such an environment as this is a bit daunting! But I am slowly getting to grips with it.

The library is based in the quite iconic Radcliffe Camera. The place is instantly recognisable, and one of the principle tourist attractions in Oxford. It holds an important place in the popular culture of Oxford, and I have seen it portrayed in everything from postcards to birthday cakes. Consequently the outside area is swarming with tourists on a day to day basis. To some this is quite annoying, but to me I do not mind it so long as they are respectful; after all it is nice that they take such an interest. It is certainly a unique aspect that comes from working here.

The faculty is quite new to the building. Up until a few years ago it was housed elsewhere and the Camera was used  for the holding of Bodleian reference collections. Now however three of our four floors possess at least some amount of HFL lending materials organised mostly according to Library of Congress. Generally both floors of the camera retain their feel as traditional silent reading rooms, while the more modern Gladstone Link below serves the role of a more social study space. Overall the library is quite large and possesses an enormous amount of resources; it’s quite something as a former history student to see the sheer scale of material on offer concerning almost exclusively the study of history.

During the previous few weeks there has been a steady flow of readers frequenting the library. Being a faculty library our reader base is especially diverse, and includes Oxford academics, visiting academics and visiting students. However like other libraries we are now about to face the onset of term and mass arrival of Oxford students, who constitute the largest share of our users. In preparation for this a number of little projects are taking place, for example the production of induction booklets and giving of library tours this week. These are the kind of miscellaneous tasks that get thrown up from time to time here!

Indeed no week is the same. Nevertheless, below I will try to give a very brief summary of some of my more regular duties (which aren’t necessarily carried out in this order)

830 – 9- Time to open. I may be responsible for setting up the till, which means checking Z reports and maintaining the float. I may also be involved in opening up, which includes switching on lights and computers, checking signage is correct etc.

9- 11- Reception. One of the two front facing customer service desks, the other being circulation. Here I generally deal with enquiries of a generally less technical nature. Often things to do with university cards, opening times and tourist matters. Also I check the book returns box and carry out other odd jobs.

Then tea

11.20- 1- Odds and ends. There is always shelving to do. I generally enjoy this, I like being able to wander about and roam around the stacks. The lower Gladstone link though remains a fascinating challenge with its various classification systems.  Then I will collect books from the trolley and process them for return to Swindon, or perhaps look for missing books.

Then lunch

2-4- BSF delivery. Twice a day we get deliveries from the Book Storage Facility in Swindon. At this time I would assist the delivery team with the unloading of boxes. The material is then scanned into Aleph and made available to the relevant readers through the self-collect points. The numbers of boxes is steadily rising as term beckons. Most likely I will finish a little early and have time for other miscellaneous work.

4-5- Circulation. The other front facing desk. Here I generally deal with more technical library enquiries, often regarding things such as hold requests and renewals, and also help with searching the catalogue, locating material, and accessing IT equipment and resources.



Emily Pulsford, Sackler Library

Stepping through the neoclassical facade of the Sackler Library and into the library beyond must feel for some like entering the TARDIS. It is hard to get a sense of the interior’s size from the street outside this building, which is nestled up against the back of the Ashmolean Museum, just around the corner from some of the main tourist spots in Oxford.

Entrance to the Sackler with bikes for scale [all photos taken by me, hence bad contrast]

The Sackler Library opened in 2001, making it a relatively new kid on the block in Oxford terms. It brought together a range of previous collections (including the Ashmolean Museum’s library) and now houses resources for several subjects: Classics, Archaeology,  Egyptology, Art History and some Architecture. Readers range from Faculty professors, to undergrads and postgrads, visiting academics with specific research interests, and even curatorial staff from the Ashmolean Museum. The latter have special borrowing privileges and access to a secret magic portal (ok, it’s a door) between the library and the museum! There are also some special collections, including 18th-century art books, archaeological records and ancient papyri (more on these in future blog posts).

I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work in this wonderful research environment as the graduate library trainee this year. My name is Emily Pulsford and I studied Classics at Cambridge a few years ago. Against the odds, my degree subject now feels relevant and useful! My previous job was for a small publishing firm that made textbooks and information books for primary schools. As part of that, I visited school library services and communicated with school librarians, which is what inspired me to explore the possibilities of a career in librarianship/information.

Sackler ground floor reading room, featuring columns. Because that’s what the Greeks and Romans are famous for, right?

So far at the Sackler, I have spent much time trying to familiarise myself with the library layout and collections. Two aspects of the library itself make this a harder task than it sounds. Firstly, because the library contains collections that came from all over the place originally, many different shelf marks and classifications systems are in use and the organisation seems illogical at times. Secondly, the library consists of five circular floors, with few distinctive landmarks to help get your bearings. Add in my sub-par sense of direction and spatial awareness, and you can see why this has proven more of a challenge that it first appeared.

To aid new readers (aka the fast-approaching freshers) who may have the same problem with orientation, I have been printing out and making up booklets with library information and, most importantly, floor plans!!

When I’m not wandering around the library trying not to look too lost when shelving books, I spend time at the issue desk. Here I do the basics of loaning and returning books, as well as helping readers answer their (varied) enquiries. The Sackler is also a pick-up point for books from the Bodleian’s remote storage facility at Swindon, so I help unload delivery crates and get books on the shelves ready for readers to use, reversing this process when it is time for them to go back to Swindon.

What with the build-up to the start of term, getting used to the library layout and workings, and lots of centralised training sessions with my lovely fellow trainees, it’s been a hectic first few weeks for me here at the Sackler. However, I have enjoyed getting stuck in with library life and getting to know the large and experienced team here, and I look forward to all the other opportunities this year brings!

Alex Pound, New College Library

[New college Library. Photo provided by me. I should point out that the spire is not part of the building…]

Where to start.

Well, my name is Alex and I am the graduate trainee at New College. The above picture is my home for the next year. (It just had to be an overcast day for it, didn’t it?) Before this I worked for nearly two years  in the Swindon Borough Council public library service as a general library assistant, and prior to that I studied History at the University of Lincoln.

New College (1379) has quite the history to it, having part of the original town wall incorporated into the College. The founder, William of Wykeham agreed on the upkeep of the structure when he acquired the land. All things considered it’s in very good condition. You’re all very welcome to bug me for a tour should you want one. The Harry Potter fans among you may be interested in the cloisters of the chapel, which featured in at least one of the films.

The rest of the college is comprised of ‘newer’ buildings, but those are by no means less beautiful than the older architecture, apart from some of the student accommodation that is hidden away out of sight. I find that it is nice to have keys to certain gates around the college, giving me several routes in and out of the college (And an excuse to swagger past tourists!) I find that I am always looked upon like some sort of mythical gatekeeper: “Look! He has access to part of the college that we do not. Let’s try and follow him.” Free lunch is also a college plus, and the food here is amazing.

I believe that I have been introduced to all of the other staff now, such as the porters, I.T, and the bursars, but I cannot even begin to remember all of their names. It’s more of a polite nod and smile job. I think that is one of the benefits of being part of a smaller team in the library. The office only has four of us. Three names I can just about cope with: Naomi is the head librarian. Helen is her deputy. Jason is the assistant librarian. Easy enough, right?

Like many of you, the first few weeks have been filled with learning. Information about this, and that, and needing to learn 20+ other trainee names. I believe I know all of them now, but I do apologise if I ever call you anything else. Please, do not take offense. It appears that my days will be filled to the brim with varying jobs and tasks, so I am looking forward to being kept busy. So far I have put most of the Osney training to good use, whether it’s checking reading lists with SOLO/OXLIP+, or cataloging books (and hoping that I do not make a mistake), and generally feeling safe and secure around the workplace thanks to Wednesday’s session. (I am definitely not bringing my toaster to the desk now)

For the past two weeks we have been bringing some of our antiquarian stock over from its safe, snug dwellings in the bell tower, over to the library. It’s a journey of three or four minutes, easy right? Well when I returned with two manuscripts packed in their respective boxes, my manager looked over her computer screen and asked me: “What do you think the value of what you’ve just carried over is?” I had very little idea. I won’t go into specifics, but it was a lot of money. My fear of accidentally dropping anything has increased ten-fold. So, if I suddenly disappear and one day I resurface in a small, rural hamlet in Nepal, you’ll all know why.




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:

Chantal van den Berg’s video presentation can be found here:

Sophie Welsh’s Prezi can be found here:

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.


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!


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


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 @

Written by Steph Bushell, All Souls College trainee


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


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

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):

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.