Jenna Meek, Bodleian Law Library

Me! In front of our exhibition celebrating 100 years of votes for women. Photographed by Hannah Chandler (Official Papers Librarian), @thelawbod

Hello! I’m Jenna, and I will be spending my traineeship in the Bodleian Law Library. I am originally from a town in central Scotland, and have spent the last 6 years in Glasgow where I completed my degree in English Literature and History of Art at the University of Glasgow. While I have not travelled the furthest for the traineeship, as we have a few trainees from mainland Europe doing placements with us, Oxford certainly feels like a far cry from Glasgow! Most notably, having only experienced a blend of a city and campus university in Glasgow, getting my head around the collegiate system in Oxford has been difficult. Something I am coming to realise is that Oxford likes to do things VERY differently in many respects!

I was so pleased and grateful to have been offered a place on the traineeship, but also slightly intimidated! I have no previous professional experience of working in a library, but became very familiar with my university library spending (literally) every day there during my final year. I do, however, have around 8 years of customer service and retail experience which I think will come in extremely useful when on the enquiry desk and interacting with such a varied pool of readers in a library as busy as the BLL. Secondly, it was advised that it would be preferable if the BLL trainee had a decent grasp of a few languages, which thankfully I do. This has come in very useful when completing one of my integral tasks of organizing the weekly New Journal Display which boasts many foreign language texts. However, it had not aided when trying to decide which page is the title page when processing a text written in Chinese characters!

While the BLL interior seems very new after having a refurbishment in the last few years, the building itself was built in 1959-1964. As Bryony has stated below, it shares the St. Cross Building with the EFL and the Law Faculty and creates a series of three interlocking cubes. It has a very different feel from many of the college libraries dotted around Oxford, though it has definitely been built for purpose, with four floors of space for the 550,000 texts the Law Bod holds which are mainly on open access. Designed by Sir Leslie Martin (1908-2000) and Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007), the blocky exterior is juxtaposed with the light and airy atrium in the main reading room. Jeffrey Hackney, who was a law student at Wadham College when the building opened, describes:

“My first reaction to the building was that it had been modelled on an Aztec temple and it was a constant source of pleasant surprise that there were no human sacrifices at the top of the steps. “

However, during the exam period, I imagine many students are in as much terror and as helpless as the sacrificial lamb! In actual fact, Ruth Bird, (Bodleian Law Librarian 2004 – 2017) advises that there is notable influence from Alvar Aalto’s Säynätsalo Hall, and the external brick cladding intended to blend with the stone of the adjacent Holywell manor and St Cross Church.

The BLL in 1964: Donat, John, Bodleian Law Library, St Cross Building, University of Oxford, Photoprint, 1964, RIBA Collections

Säynätsalo Hall: Accessed September 2018,

One of the most interesting parts of my introductory weeks has been seeing the Official Papers holdings in rolling stacks on the ground floor. 2.5 linear kilometres of texts were moved from the basement of the Radcliffe Building to the Law Bod in 2009. Seeing reports and materials that have changed laws and the lives of people living in the UK has been a real treat and I’m hoping to do a blog post on some of the most interesting finds in the near future.

At the end of my third week, I have already learned SO much and I can’t wait to continue learning and gaining new skills from the extremely helpful teams housed in the BLL, as well as training alongside all the lovely trainees on the scheme. So far I’m not feeling the terror the sacrificial lamb, but I’ll get back to you on that once the mass of undergraduates start in a couple of weeks!


Hackney, Jeffrey in Ed. Bird, Ruth, Celebrating 50 Years of the Bodleian Law Library 1964 – 2014, Witney, Oxfordshire: Windrush Group, 2014, p.5

Ibid., p.138

University of Oxford, The Faculty of Law, Accessed: September 2018,

Bryony Davies, English Faculty Library

Hi, I’m Bryony and I am the graduate trainee based at the English Faculty Library this year. I have just finished my MA in Classics & Ancient History at Durham University, where I have been based on and off since 2013 – living down south again has taken some getting used to! While at Durham I spent some time volunteering in the Classics Department Library, but other than that I am very new to the world of Librarianship.

Myself alongside our lovely bust of Tolkien – at the EFL we very much embrace hobbit dining culture… elevenses and afternoon tea breaks are very much encouraged!

The English Faculty Library can be found in the St. Cross Building on the corner of Manor Road. It shares the building with the Bodleian Law Library, and is also just around the corner from The Social Science Library so I can wave to my fellow trainees there on my way in to work. The English Faculty Library was founded in 1914 and functions primarily to serve all those reading and teaching English at Oxford, alongside other readers needing to access the collections held here. The Library holds over 110,000 volumes and subscribes to around 80 current print journals. The collection is catalogued on SOLO, and the majority of the books, except for those in our special collections, are available for loan to registered borrowers. Our special collections consist of the Wilfred Owen Collection, Pre – 1850 Collection, the Napier Collection, the Icelandic Collections, and the Meyerstein Collection.

Two of my favourite items so far in our special collections – an 1895 William Morris edition of Beowulf and our copy of The Elizabethan Zoo: A book of Beasts both Fabulous and Authentic.

So far no one day has been the same here. My duties range from staffing the issue desk, processing new books, processing new DVDs, periodicals management, managing and processing BSF material, banking, PCAS maintenance, creating displays, finding missing books, handling the post, social media (follow us on Instagram: @EFLOXF …. apologies for the shameless plug), shelving, minor book repairs and attending training sessions with the other trainees. The variety of tasks and jobs certainly keeps me on my toes, there is never a dull moment here that’s for sure.

Some books recently sent to repair that were subjected to my version of spinal surgery….

Although I am still only a few weeks in I already feel at home here at the EFL. Everyone here has been so welcoming and helpful, I can’t wait for what the rest of this year has in store.

Ross Jones, History Faculty Library

Hi! My name is Ross and I am this year’s graduate trainee at the History Faculty Library, though I’m not entirely new to the Bodleian Libraries experience. Last year, I returned from China to complete a part-time graduate programme in Historical Studies at the Department of Continuing Education here in Oxford. As I was quick to find out, the faculty library would be the first port of call for many of my research queries and most of the resources I’d need to complete my course.

The Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link

Situated in the Radcliffe Camera and parts of the Gladstone Link below, the History Faculty Library is an interesting example of an embedded library in the sense that it shares the space with another much larger library (the Old Bodleian Library) and is encompassed by a complex of historic buildings that make up the ‘central site‘. Occupying such a unique location means the ‘HFL’ enjoys an eclectic and beautifully eccentric mix of architectural features across its four floors, with stunning views over Radcliffe Square to boot.  Henry James’ quote about the peculiar air of Oxford really hit home when I walked inside; I immediately fell in love with the space and found myself wanting to spend as much time there as possible. So began a career with the Bodleian Libraries.

“the peculiar air of Oxford—the air of liberty to care for the things of the mind assured and secured by machinery which is in itself a satisfaction to sense.”          – Henry James, English Hours

Initially working as a shelving assistant, I eventually found myself involved with a veritable miscellany of library tasks. I processed incoming acquisitions, assisted with a book move at the Wellcome Unit, covered evening shifts and took an additional weekend job at the Sackler Library. It was through these experiences, and an increasingly large network of colleagues, that I became aware of the Graduate Trainee Scheme. I jumped at the opportunity. For me, the traineeship represented a chance to receive a more comprehensive grounding in a library-related profession, one that would hopefully contextualise my part-time experiences and provide a preliminary framework for studying an MA in Information and Library Studies.

Although it is still early days, I certainly feel that the traineeship is shaping up to be far more than just that. Less than a fortnight into our year-long programme, I along with my fellow trainees have been introduced to Oxford University’s discovery tools, library management systems, staff development programmes and support networks, whilst a varied workload with duties ranging from the routine to the bizarre (dissuading a tourist from flying a drone over the Camera!) has filled the time in-between.

But the icing on this splendid albeit busy cake has been the people I’ve met so far. Twenty one of us make up this year’s trainee cohort, college trainees included, and we have shared some of our introductory sessions with three foreign-placement students as well. A truly multi-national and friendly bunch, it has been fascinating hearing about past professional experiences and future plans from people who share my passion for libraries. As the year progresses, I am eager to learn how the operational and logistical challenges facing their libraries differ from my own.

Casting the net a little wider, I feel those colleagues I have come into contact with across the entirety of the Bodleian Libraries have also been very welcoming. Course Directors, Line-managers, Subject Librarians, Reader Services and Technical Services Staff have explained procedures, clarified any issues and gone to great lengths to ensure I’ve landed on my feet. I am grateful for their support and the opportunities afforded me by the Libraries.


James, Henry, and Pennell, Joseph. English Hours. William Heinemann, 1905.


Welcome to our new trainees!

2018-19 TraineesWe welcomed our new 2018-19 trainees to Oxford last week and we have 20 trainees this year. Eleven of our trainees are based in the Bodleian Libraries, 8 in our colleges and we have 1 Digital Archives trainees. Wolfson College has recruited a trainee this year and is looking forward to being part of the scheme. They have a packed training programme this term to get them up to speed with the skills and knowledge they need for the start of Michaelmas Term. They are looking forward to their tour of the Bodleian and drinks in the Divinity School this week where Chris Fletcher,  Keeper of Special Collections, 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!

A Visit to Four Libraries in London

During the college’s Easter Break, I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange visits to some libraries that focus on the topics of military history and international affairs at four different institutions in London. Three of these institutions (RUSI, IISS, and Chatham House) are independent think tanks, whilst the other is a Private Members Club. As I had come to Oxford whilst completing my MSc in Security Studies, I was particularly eager to explore these libraries with which I felt an academic affinity.

My first visit was to the Library of Military History at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defense and security think tank established in 1831 with the Duke of Wellington as the founding patron. This library focuses primarily on military history and has some fantastic rare books and modern manuscripts that are unique in the U.K. RUSI’s Librarian, Jacqui Grainger, guided me round the building and explained how the library works at RUSI. The architecture of the library is amazing, and it was a real treat to see some of RUSI’s most prized holdings. Jacqui’s role, however, does not end just with books and printed material but also covers the art and artifacts that decorate the walls and rooms of RUSI. This was particularly interesting, as it has parallels with some of the duties a College Librarian may be required to undertake.

I found it incredibly useful talking to Jacqui about collection management, and the challenges that a library like RUSI’s faces. As the photo above shows, RUSI’s shelves are nearly full and if the library’s goal were to collect material covering future events then it would require much more space – possibly even including off-site storage. Therefore, difficult decisions need to be made: does the library attempt to comprehensively cover all future military developments, or does it focus on developing its historic collections and material relevant to its study. This brought to mind the collections decisions made with regards to Jesus College’s Celtic Library, and was a good demonstration of the challenges of collection management that are not always apparent to library users.

Next, I visited the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). Established in 1958 with a primary emphasis on nuclear deterrence and arms control, the IISS also operates offices in Washington, Bahrain and Singapore. I was met by Kevin Jewell, IISS’s Head of Knowledge and Information Services, who explained how the IISS library has moved away from its previous role as traditional lending service and more towards information management. The library still has a core collection of books, though the emphasis is now on how it can actively support the researchers and their work. Given that the IISS employs researchers around the globe, it is perhaps unsurprising that the management of electronic resources has become increasingly more relevant.

Kevin showed me some of the strategies and tools they use to collate publicly available information and the methods they use to present this information to the staff in a relevant and easily accessible way. He also highlighted how the library signposts electronic resources (and more importantly how to access them), and Graham Ivory, the IISS’s Information Specialist, demonstrated how incredibly useful a well-designed intranet can be to supporting a group’s aims. He explained that not only is content important, but also how a clear and easy to navigate layout is vital to encourage users to make the most of the resources provided. This was very useful as it made me consider design from a user’s point of view: what features would make me more or less likely to interact with the environment?

However, printed material still plays an important role. Hilary Morris, the IISS’ Librarian, showed me how they are making a determined effort to collect material relevant to the IISS’ history in their archive, and the challenges that preserving these sources presents. Seeing these documents that stretch back to the IISS’ foundation was fascinating (especially considering how the IISS is approaching its 60th anniversary) and they will no doubt be hugely significant for future researchers. Having seen the importance of these archival documents, I was made aware just how vital strategies for collecting current electronic documents are, so it was interesting to hear how the IISS intends to tackle this issue.

Chatham House
My next destination was Chatham House, more formally known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Formed in 1920, this think tank focuses its attention on the world’s major international issues. Chatham House was, in a sense, the most ‘traditional’ of the libraries I visited. With a dual focus of supporting their research staff as well as its members (who range from students to retired professionals), the Chatham House library is very active in its collection of relevant books and journals. Talking to Binni Brynolf, the Digital Resources Librarian, gave me a really good impression of the library’s function and how it has adapted to meet its users’ needs. Due to size of their collection, only the most recent publications (i.e. within the last 15 years) are kept on site; the rest is stored off-site and must be called-up. This immediately made me think of the Bodleian’s Book Storage Facility in Swindon, and it was fascinating to hear how they deal with book requests. Having just helped plan the move of Jesus College’s lesser-used Celtic journals to an on-site storage space, I could well appreciate all the forethought required when preparing for off-site storage!

I really enjoyed learning about the library’s management system, and comparing it to what I am used to at Oxford. Due to the different scales of the libraries, both have different needs so it was interesting listening to Binni describe what system suits a specialist library like Chatham House. I was even more intrigued to learn about ebooks, and what role they may play in the future. Ebooks are not currently a big feature of Chatham House’s library, but a lot of thought is being given as to whether the advantages of these electronic resources would justify the (not insignificant) cost. Not all ebooks are created equal, and some texts are better suited than others are; consequently, it is really interesting to see how things will develop!

The Army & Navy Club
My final visit was to the library at the Army & Navy Club, a.k.a. ‘The Rag’. Unlike the other three libraries I visited, the Army & Navy Club is a Private Members Club with strong historic links with the British and Commonwealth Armed Services. As the library is for the members to borrow at their leisure, it does not need to be as comprehensive as a research library, nor does it require that the members have access to online resources. Yet even a cursory glance as the shelves reveals a wealth of interesting titles on military history that would well match the members’ interests.

I found talking to Jane Branfield, the Club’s Librarian who is a professional archivist by training, about her role and career progression incredibly useful. Her experiences made me realize that certain roles require the ability to balance many different skills. Furthermore, Jane explained how prior experiences in one role, such as creating a database on generals in a military archive, could easily translate into different areas, such as working on a project detailing historic barristers for the Inner Temple. The main lesson I took away was to take up different opportunities as they arise, even if they seem removed from what might be considered the core duties of a librarian; you never know when you may need to call upon different skills and experiences in future jobs.

Final Thoughts
Though similar in thematic content, each of the libraries felt different and unique, and each displayed real-world practices and challenges that we have been learning about on the Trainee Programme. A particular theme that ran through my visits was the importance of preserving archival material. Some places had inherited an abundance of material, whereas in others the gathering of material (much of which may have already been lost) was very much a current concern. However, all were deeply aware of the issues of what will happen now so much of our working lives are enacted digitally. What was once an easily filed letter is now an intangible email, and so without any intervention much useful material may be forever lost to future researchers. This is a particular point that we have learnt about at the Bodleian, so it was fascinating to see that these issues in settings external to Oxford.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Jacqui from RUSI, Kevin, Graham and Hilary from the IISS, Binni from Chatham House, and Jane from the Army and Navy Club for all the time they spent explaining their work to me and for giving me such a great insight into their libraries. The information and advice everyone gave me was invaluable, and will be a huge help to me as I plan my future career in librarianship.

Martyna Grzesiak, Lady Margaret Hall

With the Christmas break (or ‘vac’ as it is abbreviated in Oxford-speak) behind us, and the new term about to begin, it feels like the perfect time to take stock of a term’s worth of experiences – especially since this is the period when some of the potential future trainees will be working on their applications and hopefully looking to the blog to see what to expect from the traineeship.

Although one might expect the job of every library trainee based in Oxford to be the same, it’s surprising to see how much our work can differ; there is a different flavour to each of Oxford’s libraries and this will determine some of what you do during your traineeship – whether you’re the voice of authority informing tourists that no, the Radcliffe Camera is for registered readers only, or, as George recounts in her post, find the reader’s slip of J.R.R. Tolkien in a book called up from the Bodleian library stacks.

The library where I work does not have quite the same claims of longevity or fame, although another of Oxford’s literary greats, Charles Dodgson (better known under his pen name, Lewis Carroll), would visit our college to trial his Game of Logic with the students. Significantly, it is part of the first college to admit female students in Oxford. Although Lady Margaret Hall has since become coeducational and students are allowed to use the Bodleian library (the fellows are no longer quite as concerned about students encountering a boy on their way to pick up some books as they were back in 1879), the rich collections of erstwhile core texts are a reminder of the library’s past.

While, unlike some of the other trainees, I had no experience of working in a library, the training and guidance both at LMH and in the trainee sessions organised by Emma soon made me feel ready to deal with the day-to-day work. The first few weeks of the traineeship were an excellent opportunity to become familiar with the lay of the land. As might be expected of an academic library, the work follows the ebb and flow of the academic calendar, and the majority of the trainee placements begin at the start of September, which gives you several weeks before term begins. With the arrival of freshers’ week, life briefly gets taken over by library induction sessions – in our case complete with an introduction to Freddie, the library’s resident resin skeleton who doubles as an anatomy study prop and the star of seasonal social media posts by the college’s Communications team, such as this tweet:


After this busy first week filled with new faces and countless queries about the library’s printing facilities, I started settling into more of a routine, with the working week broken up by the Wednesday training sessions in Osney, which have so far included talks on various developments and trends in librarianship, and a trip to the somewhat surreal Book Storage Facility. Throughout the term I have taken on several mini-projects to keep myself occupied when the day-to-day tasks are out of the way. These have ranged from processing donations given to the library by alumni and staff, to, more recently, beginning to reclassify the library’s Italian collection.

Unexpected visits from alumni, returning to the library to discover how it has changed since their graduation definitely add to the variety of the job, such as the very timely 31/10 visit by a former student, whose kind donation of a 1635 edition of the English translation of Martin Luther’s commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Galathians, together with a copy of James Ussher’s De Graeca Septuaginta (London: John Crook, 1655), allowed us to mark the quicenternary of the publication of Luther’s theses in style.

There are also opportunities to get involved with the community in your workplace during the traineeship. Recently I got involved in planning the support staff ‘Away Day’ – running a pub-style quiz for 60-odd college staff is definitely one of the unexpected highlights of the traineeship so far!

Although a significant part of the work does amount to the standard fare you might expect, i.e. dealing with loans, processing new purchases and handling reader enquiries, there is definitely enough variety to keep you on your toes and make for a very enjoyable traineeship.

I look forward to discovering what Hilary term brings – and good luck to everyone applying to the trainee scheme!

A piece of Bodleian History: Clues from the Stacks

In my first blog, I mentioned the twice-daily deliveries of books from our Book Storage Facility in Swindon to the Old Bodleian site- as well as other Bodleian Libraries.  Something exciting arrived in a recent delivery:

The Yellow Fairy Book (ed. Andrew Lang) was called up from the closed stacks. This was not interesting in itself (although it is a first edition and has a nice cover) until we opened up the book and saw that the last borrower had left their slip in there.

The Yellow Fairy Book, borrowed by J. R. R. Tolkien

That’s right- the J.R.R. Tolkien used this very book! The book mustn’t have been touched for several decades and so the slip has remained in place.

I contacted the Bodleian’s Tolkien Archivist, Catherine McIlwaine, who was able to confirm this. She explained that Tolkien looked at the book ahead of giving his famous Andrew Lang lecture at the University of St Andrews on 8th March 1939. The lecture was published as an essay entitled ‘On Fairy Tales’ in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, alongside contributions by contemporary academics such as C. S. Lewis and Dorothy L Sayers who also went on to have literary success.

Library records show that Tolkien consulted the book, among others, on the 27th February 1939. He was obviously working hard, preparing for the lecture, just ten days prior to delivering it (this makes me feel less guilty about all those essays hastily put together days before they were due!).

Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading room where I consulted the Bodleian Library’s Records

I went to Weston Library, which houses the University’s Special Collections, to look at the library records and see what else Tolkien looked at on the day. At the time Tolkien visited the library, the basement space underneath the Radcliffe Camera was a closed stack where only staff were allowed. Librarians would fetch any books stored there for readers to consult in the reading rooms. (The area is now called the Gladstone Link and is open to readers to use as a study space and to find books on the shelves themselves.)

MS. Library Records b. 618  ‘Camera Basement and Underground Bookstore Volumes fetched for Bodleian Readers’ & the inside of the book where you can see Tolkien’s name was recorded. The shelf mark ‘93 e.71’ is ‘The Yellow Fairy Book’.

The librarians recorded number of items requested each day, the time each book was requested, the shelf mark of the book, name of the reader and the seat number where they were sitting. Books were then fetched and delivered to the desk. I checked on our catalogue to see what items the shelf marks referred to.

At 10:30am Tolkien requested to see:
The Olive Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1907)
The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, by A. Lang (1897)
The Lilac Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1910)
The Green Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1892)
Favourite Fairy Tales (Fairy tales retold) 1907
The Brown Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1904)
The Crimson Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1903)
The Violet Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1901)
The Yellow Fairy Book, ed. by A. Lang (1894)

Later on, at 11:30am, he requested:
Fairy Gold, a book of old English Fairy Tales chosen by Ernest Rhys (1907)
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (compiled in 1893) by Robert Kirk
Essays in Little by A. Lang (1891)
Perrault’s Popular Tales, ed. by A. Lang (1888)
The Magic Ring, and other stories from the Yellow and Crimson Fairy Books, ed. by A. Lang (1906)
English Fairy and other folk tales, selected and edited by Edwin Sidney Hartland (1893)

As well as for use in his upcoming lecture, the stories in these books would no doubt have inspired Tolkien with his own fiction. The slip we found was left in the book at the beginning of The Dragon of the North a story about a courageous youth who defeats a man-eating dragon. He manages this feat with a magic ring, stolen from a witch maiden. Amongst many of its powers, if placed on the third finger of the left hand, it turns the wearer invisible. In the end, the ring is too powerful, and the youth learns that ‘ill-gotten gains never prosper’ when the witch retrieves the ring and punishes him for his deception. There is a eucatastrophe- the term Tolkien coined to describe happy endings in Fairy Tales- as the youth is rescued and made king.

It looks like Tolkien must have returned to consult The Yellow Fairy Book at least once more, as the slip suggests he sat in seat 23 of the Upper Reading Room- whereas the records from the 27th February state seat 22. He obviously liked that particular area of the reading room (I must say, it has a nice view of the Radcliffe Camera through the window!)

Here’s me, sitting in seat 23 in the Upper Reading Room, pretending to be Tolkien!

It was pretty thrilling to open up the book and find the Tolkien slip; and interesting to trace his steps and see what other books he used, during the period when he would have been writing Lord of the Rings. It makes him feel more real, somehow, to know that he used the library just like us!
It also makes me excited for the upcoming exhibition, curated by Catherine McIlwaine, entitled Tolkien: Beyond Middle Earth which will open at the Weston Library in June 2018.

EFL Reclassification Project

As promised in my first blog, here is an introduction to the ongoing reclassification project here at the English Faculty Library!

So, a little historical context: in 1914, when Oxford established a dedicated library for the study of English, the first librarian (Percy Simpson, whose adventures you can read about here) created an in-house classification system. Books were categorised by time period, and each author was given a unique number within those sections. For example, books by or about Jane Austen began ‘M13’ – ‘M’ indicates 1790-1830, and ’13’ was the number allotted to Austen. The system had two main strengths: shelfmarks were short and easy to remember, and the time periods were conveniently divided so that materials for a particular paper would be kept close together, making it easy for readers to browse related material.

Short, memorable in-house shelfmarks

This system lasted for almost a century, surviving two major location moves for the library – from the current site of the Weston Library on Broad Street, to the loft of Examination Schools, and then to the current purpose-built site in the St. Cross building. However, several problems emerged over time:

  1. It became unwieldy to manage an in-house classification system, particularly with the Bodleian Libraries’ move towards centralising acquisitions.
  2. There is a long-term proposal to merge the Humanities libraries in a single site at the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, so it makes more sense that we all use the same system.
  3. The principle of allotting each author their own number worked well at first, but as our collection became larger, some of the more recent periods began to fill up. Because of this, new authors were being given longer and more complicated classifications, which started to undermine the benefit of the system’s simplicity.
  4. The undergraduate English degree changed. In the last hundred years, the degree syllabus has been revised a number of times, and the original divisions no longer map onto the way the degree is split up.

As a result of these factors, it was decided ten years ago that the English Faculty Library would switch to Library of Congress Classification (LCC), which is an internationally recognised system developed by the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C.

Longer, but more informative, LCC shelfmarks

Since then, every new book we have acquired has been given an LCC shelfmark, and there is a long-term project to reclassify our existing stock. This involves printing out new labels for each book and editing each item’s electronic bibliographic record – as we go through, we assess each item, repair or replace damaged books, and fill in any gaps in our collection. Over the summer, my colleagues reclassified over 2000 books from the ‘S’ section, which contained post-colonial literature. Since then, we have moved on to ‘R’ (American literature), and significant progress is being made to process all 6000 items.

When we began reclassifying, we limited ourselves to vacations, as shifting the sequences requires a lot of (potentially-disruptive) book moves. Plus, there was a major building project, completed in 2016, which meant that reclassification had to be put on hold for a couple of years. However, now we are back up and running, we’ve decided to continue some reclassification throughout term and so far have had no complaints from readers.

Despite this, there is still a long way to go! As I write, just over half of our books still need to be reclassified, so it will be a few years until our entire collection is LCC. Helping (a bit) with the project has been instructive in the kind of varied behind-the-scenes work involved in collection management. It has been interesting to see the ways in which a project like this presents an opportunity to maintain and develop our collections, creating the best possible resource for our patrons.

A glimpse of the Sackler’s special collections

More than a month into my time at the Sackler, I am still discovering obscure but delightful aspects of its collections. One of my newly-acquired responsibilities is to fetch items from the closed stack areas of the library. Readers can consult these special collections items in a dedicated corner of the ground floor under the watchful eye of the desk staff, as these books are often old/rare/generally difficult and expensive to replace. These fascinating resources and gems from times gone by are kept in a variety of hidden places around the library.

One of these repositories is the Rare Books Room. Here a multitude of old volumes are kept under lock and key (read: sophisticated modern alarm system) in rolling stacks.


Inside the Rare Books Room [all photos taken by me]

Items in the Rare Books Room include:

  • folios and books containing accounts and drawings by 19th-century travellers to sites of interest such as those in Egypt;
  • accounts of famous archaeological excavations, such as Arthur Evans’ excavation of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete, some of which used to belong to the Ashmolean Museum Library collection;
  • drawings of artefactsheld at the British Museum in its early days.

Excavation reports

View of Petra in Jordan by Victorian Scottish artist David Roberts

Curious visitors to the Sackler Library may have noticed an intriguing room set back from the edge of the main reading room on floor 1 called the Wind Room. Though this may sound like a reference to something classical or elemental, it is actually named after Edgar Marcel Wind. Wind was a German academic who became Oxford’s first Art History professor in 1955, after a stint as a lecturer at All Souls. More information about Wind and his time at Oxford can be found here . The Wind Room itself mostly contains books about western art printed between 1500-1900. Because of their age, the books are treated as special/rare books, and are locked inside caged shelves that I think are actually rather attractive.

Caged books in the Wind Room

There is also an Archives Room containing archives of various Classicists and archaeologists, along with MPhil and DPhil theses, and miscellaneous pamphlets. I’ve only been in that room twice ever, and I suspect there is more to be uncovered during future visits!

The Sackler Library also houses a major research centre for Egyptology, including papyrology , and the work being done here warrants its own blog post (or even entire blog), so watch this space…


Holly Marie, All Souls College

Hi everyone! I’m Holly, and I am the graduate trainee at All Souls College, in the Codrington Library. It was whilst studying for a Master’s in English Literature at Newcastle University, where I worked closely with early printed materials, that I became inspired to pursue a career in librarianship (once you start learning about how to care for and handle books you never look at one in the same way again, which I find to be both a blessing and a curse)… So, after graduating I sought to develop my customer service skills within an information-based environment by working in a public library, a Cathedral library, and as a museum guide and a tourist information officer (amongst many other things)! Even a month on, I still cannot quite believe how fortunate I am to be situated in such a beautiful library and city, and I fully intend to make the most of the experience.

I’ll begin with a brief-ish introduction to All Souls College, as it has a fascinating history that is well worth knowing. The college was founded in 1438 by Henry Chichele, the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with Henry VI as its co-founder, and was initially built as a war memorial for those who died in the battlefield at Agincourt, where Henry VI’s father, Henry V, broke the laws of chivalry and massacred his prisoners of war. Hence, it became ‘the college of All Souls of the faithful departed’, where fellows celebrated divine service for those lost to the war. In fact, one of the most memorable parts of the college has to be the chapel, with its incredible reredos and ornate chapel screen.

(All photographs used in this blog are courtesy of All Souls College)

Its other purpose was to serve as a place of advanced study, with fellows primarily studying or teaching theology, law and medicine, and what really distinguishes All Souls from other Oxford colleges is that, apart from a few exceptions, we have never taken in our own undergraduates. I have been informed that this is in keeping with medieval practice, when fellows lived in college and students would go to them for teaching. Eventually, colleges realised that they could charge students to live on site which many began to do, yet All Souls maintained the medieval custom (can’t say I blame them).

Now on to the library… stepping out into the Great Quadrangle is a sight that one cannot easily forget, with the Radcliffe Camera peering over on the left, the immense two towers to the right, and the long library – the longest library in Europe – and its stunning sundial straight ahead. I will always remember the first time I stood in front of the library as I was walking with the librarian to my interview, trying to act cool and as though I was totally used to seeing such spectacular architecture – no biggie- and to not just stand there paralysed, with my mouth open in utter awe.

The building of the Great Library began in 1716, to a plan by Nicholas Hawksmoor, and was finished in 1751, and we now have around 185,000 volumes. We are a reference only library, though fellows are allowed to borrow, and I must admit, I do feel privileged to be one of the select few who holds a key to access the books! Our strengths are in law and history, and we have our own law reading room, the Anson Room. Knowing very little about law and being slightly (okay, very) intimidated by the sheer number of law reports and journals in there, I did treat it rather like the third floor corridor in Harry Potter and avoided it for a while, but I’d say I’m more than confident with where everything is now.

Hoping that this winter will bring snow so I can re-create this image…

This is the first ‘official’ week of term, which is exciting, although I must say I was glad to have the first month to get over the initial shock of merely working in such a magnificent library, and to ensure that when readers came in, I wasn’t wandering around looking like a lost little lamb. The pace has definitely picked up a lot (and our working hours have increased), but I am enjoying facing new challenges and taking on different jobs each day. My main roles, to list but a few, are inducting and assisting new readers, locating and delivering books to them, managing our journals collections and generally being the first point of call in the library office. I love it when I am able to help someone with an enquiry, and it is a genuine pleasure to witness readers fully appreciating and using the library.

The winding (and very creaky) spiral staircase in our office

All Souls does seem to hold a sort of enigmatic presence within Oxford, and a common assumption seems to be that we are entirely closed to readers– this is definitely not the case, and we are a very welcoming – albeit ‘unique’ – bunch here! (We also have excellent taste in biscuits). That being said, I do enjoy walking past the giant black and gold gates on Catte Street and listening in on the absolute rubbish that tour guides tell tourists about us – for example, that we are a college for retired fellows, or that we do not allow in women. I really have no clue as to where they get this information from!

The Great Library

I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year brings us all, and though I could quite happily keep writing, I must get back to work as someone has very kindly left a huge pile of books for me to shelve…