Dom Hewett, English Faculty Library

Hi! I’m Dom, and I’m the Graduate Trainee based at the English Faculty Library. I did my undergraduate degree in English here at Oxford, and then studied for a Masters at Bristol, focusing mainly on British literature from the 1920s and 30s. I am in the slightly unusual position of having used the library I work in as a student, though when I arrived for my interview the front door was no longer where it used to be, so things do change!

The EFL is located just outside the centre of town, based in the St Cross building, which we share with the English Faculty, Law Faculty and Bodleian Law Library. The building is a Grade II* listed example of 1960s brutalist architecture, so a little bit different in style from the Radcliffe Camera or Taylorian Institute, though similarly confusing to navigate.

[Image taken from the EFL’s website]

We have significant teaching and research collections for English Literature and Language, in addition to the imaginatively-named Rare Book Room (which is fun to poke around), and materials for the postgraduate degrees in Film Aesthetics and Women’s Studies. We are also a reading room for the wider Bodleian Libraries, which means that our patrons can request books to be delivered here from the Book Storage Facility in Swindon. The EFL is a busy library with a wide variety of things going on, which makes for an interesting place to learn about librarianship!

So, what might a typical day look like?

8.45-10am: arrive at the EFL; turn on the printers upstairs and check that they have enough paper and toner; make up the cash float for the till; process expired hold items and prepare them to be sent back to storage.

10am-11.30am: process the new delivery and take them out to the issue desk; perform a head count of readers; make a cup of coffee; shelve any journals which have been used and update the spreadsheet.

11.30-1pm: update twitter; check the enquiries inbox; go on the issue desk for an hour.

1-2pm: lunch break (the famous ‘Missing Bean’ coffee shop in our building is reopening today, which we’re all very excited about).

2-3.30pm: process the pile of new journals and books; look through our records to see if any journals have failed to arrive on time; update our New Books Display; escort a couple of readers to our Old Norse room.

3.30-5pm: fetch something for a reader from the Rare Book Room; work on a display for the library; go on the issue desk for another hour; help close up and shoo lingering readers; home.

Apart from vastly understating how many biscuits are consumed in a working day, this is a fairly representative picture of what I do. So far I have been here for a month, which has gone extremely quickly. It has been reasonably quiet as most of our students have been away from Oxford, giving us time to make progress on the ongoing reclassification project (which I will do a post about in the future, get hyped). Fingers crossed it doesn’t get too hectic when they all return their vacation loans at once! Luckily my colleagues are on hand to help out (also when I get confused about our concurrent classification systems). Plus they’re a lot of fun to work with!


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 (by Oxford users) 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.