All Souls College Library is mainly devoted to law and history. The Library is for the use of Fellows of the College but it is also open to graduates and undergraduates of Oxford University reading law, history and other disciplines, as well as to bona fide researchers. The collections are rich in pre-1800 printed sources and there is a large collection of manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries as well as the complete archives of the College.
Hello All! I am Elena Trowsdale, the current trainee at All Souls College Library. As far as oxford libraries go, All Souls is rather puzzling since it functions both as a college library whilst also admitting many external readers from the wider university- and beyond! Our collections are mainly focussed on History, but also involve an entire room devoted to Law texts, and contain extensive Military and Naval History collections as well as lots of Early-printed materials. Contrary to popular belief, All Souls is not as mysterious and unenterable as one may think. The college itself is open to visitors 2-4pm every weekday, and the library is open to readers who are University members through a simple registration system. For me, this means I am able to perform a wide range of tasks, serving both external readers and internal fellows with book fetching, answering queries and many other requests. I am thoroughly enjoying my traineeship at All Souls, and hope to continue working in libraries when the year is completed- whether as a library assistant, cataloguer or a bibliographic researcher.
Prior to the traineeship, I was completing my MSc in Digital Scholarship at Corpus Christi college, in which I was researching early modern women’s devotional writing and how to create optimal digital editions of these works which are most often found in manuscript form. Alongside this research, I worked part time at Christ Church Library as after-hours Library Assistant and completed a summer internship in the Rare Books department of the Weston Library. All of these experiences grew my love of the world of librarianship, and increased my interests both in manuscripts and rare books, but also in the digital futures of libraries and their collections. I am glad to say that I believe I will be able to develop these interests even further during my traineeship here at All Souls.
The first month of my traineeship has been extremely busy. Alongside learning my basic routine tasks such as journal processing, we prepared for and took part in a number of events such as Oxford Preservation Trust’s ‘Open Doors’, a conservation workshop and the All Souls Fellowship Examination preparations. I also moved a part of our law collection to a new location and have been taking part in web development and preparing the library for term time, when readers are allowed to enter the library again. It has been an exciting time, with many new Visiting Fellows being inducted to the library and lots of visits from schools.
In the coming months, I am looking forward to completing some projects such as exhibitions and blog posts for All Souls, as well as learning more in our training about ALMA, cataloguing and looking after readers. I hope that once I become more accustomed in my role, I will be able to assist in more complex projects and help continue the current librarians’ excellent work in exposing our library and collections to new readers.
As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, the trainees have decided to highlight female authors with a connection to Oxford. We’re starting things off with Jane Austen, but watch this space for more posts to come!
Jane Austen, the seventh child of the Reverend George and Cassandra Austen, (née Leigh) was born in Hampshire in 1775. Her family, a large and lively community, shared a love of learning that encouraged Jane’s creativity, and she began writing at an early age. Her life amongst the landed gentry and a wide network of friends and family no doubt provided ample inspiration for her writing. The family lived in Steventon, Hampshire until Jane’s father retired, after which they moved on to various locations including Bath, London and Southampton. Jane died at the age of 41 from Addison’s disease, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. 
Connection to Oxford
Jane had a variety of connections to Oxford. Her older brother James attended St John’s, as did their father, and their paternal grandfather was rector of All Souls College. When Jane was eight, she was sent to Oxford with her cousin (another Jane) and her sister Cassandra to be educated by Mrs Cawley, the widow of Ralph Cawley, a former Principal of Brasenose. 
In 2022, the Friends of the National Libraries led a campaign to save the Honresfield Library, a huge collection of manuscripts and books by a range of British authors, including Austen. The campaign to raise over £15 million was a success, which has ensured continued public access to the collection.  The Jane Austen collection from the Honresfield Library has been donated to the Bodleian Libraries and Jane Austen’s House. It features first editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Northanger Abbey, as well as two letters from Jane to her sister in 1796. Letters from Austen are incredibly rare, as Cassandra destroyed or censored many of them. 
Jane Austen wrote many short stories in her teenage years. Three surviving notebooks are held in the British Library and the Bodleian Libraries. These stories were often lively and action-packed, and not entirely dissimilar from what teenage girls might write about now – typically getting into trouble, romantic or otherwise. . In the somewhat tumultuous years after her father’s death, Jane did not have as much time for writing. It was only once settled in Chawton on her brother’s estate that she began to edit Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication. The former was published anonymously in 1811, and the later in 1813. Mansfield Park and Emma were published in 1814 and 1815 respectively. Following Jane’s death in 1817, NorthangerAbbey and Persuasion were published later the same year, and were the first of her books to identify her as the author.
After publication, her books were generally received favourably (although it’s interesting to consider if this would have been the case if it was known from the beginning that they were penned by a woman), and commended for their portrayal of everyday life. Alfred Tennyson wrote that “Miss Austen understood the smallness of life to perfection,” highlighting her skill for social observation.  Now, 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is celebrated as one of the most beloved British writers, whose works have been translated into multiple languages and adapted for the stage and screen.
Most Iconic Character
Sometimes, the most obvious answer is, in fact, the right one. Elizabeth Bennet is a British icon in her own right, with her quick-witted nature and sharp tongue (perfectly encapsulated in one of the most savage insults in literary history: “I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world on whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”) Lizzie’s misjudgement of poor Mr Darcy is something I’m sure many of us relate to, and the changing nature of her opinion of him throughout the novel is what makes me return to it (and the iconic masterpiece that is the 2005 film version) time and time again.
My favourite Jane Austen novel is (unsurprisingly) Pride and Prejudice. The themes of the novel – love, social hierarchies and dealing with irritating family members offering “delicate little compliments” remain incredibly relatable to this day- the language may have changed, but our lives are not that dissimilar to the characters in Pride and Prejudice.
My work starts by cycling to work. I live in Cowley, a comfortable 10-minutes-long cycle away from All Souls (7 minutes if I am late and pedal hard enough). My first steps in the college lead to the Buttery to fill my water bottle before I enter the library via the magnificent Great Quad.
Today is the first day we are open to readers after Christmas. My line-manager, the Librarian-in-Charge is in for the first time after their leave, so we catch up before I start my morning duties. These include turning on the screens and the lightshow that contextualise the presence of the statue of Christopher Codrington in the library. Codrington was a former fellow of the college who donated a large amount of money for the building of the library; perhaps unsurprisingly for Oxford, this wealth derived from Codrington’s ownership of plantations in the West Indies. The college is hoping to address this complex legacy, and these installations are the first steps on the way (you can read more about this program here). Once I get these out of the way, I do the usual bits: I clean up any books left on desks, shelve books, update the ‘borrowing book’ which documents books taken out by Fellows, and check whether readers have put in any requests.
Time to open the main door for readers! We do not have an Enquiry Desk but since my desk is in the Great Library, I am often the one who takes the reader-focused role. Today, however, our first reader does not arrive until 11am which means that I have time to get on with some spreadsheets.
More catching up with my manager about what I did last week when I was in the library on my own, and what is on my to-do-list this week. They assign me a few tasks and then the conversation deviates into other work-related topics. Suddenly it is 11:30 and I realise that I have barely done any actual work, so I print out the reader book requests slips and go fetch them before it is time to pootle over for lunch.
Lunch! One of the most exciting things in the life of a college trainee. Today, the vegetarian option was a celeriac roulade with potato wedges, green veg, and salad on the side. I take the lemon posset for my tea break later in the day.
As there’s a lot to get done this afternoon and I want to head home on time, I finish my break early safe in the knowledge that I’ll get that extra half hour in lieu at a later date. My usual afternoon program includes sorting out the post, as well as processing new acquisitions, shelving, and book moving, most of which I do whilst sitting on the desk in the Great Library. I had done most of these tasks last week when I was in the library on my own, so this afternoon I will be moving outdated law volumes from our law reading room into the cellar.
Twenty 12kg-heavy crates later, I am in a dire need of a sit-down for a moment. I reply to e-mails before making a cup of tea and sorting out the incoming post, consisting mainly of new issues of printed law and history journals. I check these in, stamp, shelfmark and shelve them. I like this job a lot for its zen-like, meditative quality (and because I can drink tea whilst doing it).
I am currently doing an internship for the FAMOUS project, helping Dr Camillo Formigatti retro-cataloguing Sanskrit manuscripts in TEI. This is an exciting opportunity which allows me to join my academic specialism and develop my librarian skills, including learning cataloguing in XML. I spent half an hour today setting up a meeting with my supervisor and going through the manuscript catalogue to identify the volumes I will be working with from next week onwards.
As it is still vacation, the library closes at half past four. I am dreading the return of the term-time hours, 9:30-18:30. For now, however, I happily start my closing routine: I check whether all readers our out, turn off the interactive touchscreens and lightshow, and lock up various doors. By half past, I collect my backpack and coat, wave at my manager, close the main door, and head out to do whatever Oxford throws at me that day.
My name is Barbora and I am the trainee at the All Souls College Library. Although All Souls holds a certain aura of mystique, its Library is perhaps the most accessible college library in Oxford, providing its rich collections not only to the members of the college but also to Oxford students and external researchers. The library is strong in history and law in particular; furthermore, there is a wealth of manuscripts and early-printed materials.
I have been in Oxford for five years now, reading for MPhil in Classical Indian Religions at Wolfson before transferring to DPhil in Oriental Studies with specialisation in Vedic Sanskrit at Balliol College. Before coming to Oxford, I did an undergrad and MA in Religious Studies at the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, where I worked part-time as a Student Librarian in the library of the Department of Philosophy for four years. I loved every aspect of that job, so when I arrived in Oxford, I quickly found a part-time job as an invigilator in the Radcliffe Camera. It was there where I first heard about the Graduate Traineeship, and I was absolutely certain I would apply once I finish my DPhil.
Although I cannot say I am fully done with my DPhil yet – handing in my thesis only over a week ago and anxiously awaiting my viva – I am very lucky to be working in the grand eighteenth-century All Souls Library for about a month and half now. The main bulk of my job has been behind the library scenes so far, including tasks such as shelving, book processing, handling book requests, updating spreadsheets of all kinds, and creating more space in the bookstack. As we have just opened to readers after the long vacation, I will be incrementally taking on more tasks related to the reader services. So far, my favourite job has been processing the so-called “presentations”, i.e., books donated to the library by college members. This involves multiple steps from creating a custom bookplate commemorating the donation to assigning it a shelfmark.
Overall, I am very excited to see what the year at All Souls has in store for me!
Our series of interviews with former trainees continues! This week we hear from Duncan Jones (Old Bodleian Library, 2014/15), Gabrielle Matthews (All Souls College Library, 2013/14), and Jenna Meek (Bodleian Law Library, 2018/19).
What did you most enjoy about this experience?
Working at the main enquiry desk and coming into contact with a range of readers and staff from other departments. I also enjoyed the experience of being part of the trainee cohort.
Receiving training beyond the remit of my own library.
Gaining essential library experience and making friends with the other trainees! I’m still in touch with many of them.
Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?
It’s a while ago now but I remember finding the library schools session useful.
Frankie Wilson’s training on assessment has really stuck with me! Also, the library visits were really useful and interesting.
I really enjoyed all the visits, but I also felt that the practical sessions were the most useful, e.g. how to use the LMS (Library Management Systems) etc.
Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?
I did the Sheffield distance learning course from 2015 to 17. The traineeship influenced me to do it but I decided on distance learning because I wanted to be able to carry on working alongside it.
I did a LIS MA programme (UCL). The traineeship did influence this decision — speaking with my line manager, my predecessors in the role, and the session about the various programmes helped me make up my mind to do an LIS MA degree.
I did do an MSc in Information & Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. I really enjoyed the course, and it is a very research-led university so everything is very up to date. We also had the opportunity to do a few placements which were super useful for gaining more experience in areas I was particularly interested in, e.g. cataloguing.
In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?
An awareness of roles in the academic library sector and the confidence to apply for different opportunities.
A better understanding of academic libraries and how they function.
Practical working experience in a HE library, which helped me get the role I’m in now. It helped me much more than the MSc!
What are you doing now?
Two part-time roles in Oxford – Lending Services Project Coordinator for the Bodleian and Reader Services Librarian at St Anne’s.
I’m currently the Senior Assistant Librarian at All Souls College.
I’m a library collections assistant at the Glasgow School of Art library, and I mainly do acquisitions & cataloguing.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
In my opinion, I don’t recommend working full time alongside a distance learning master’s. It is a lot of stress to handle for 2-3 years solid. I would consider a PG-Dip as a cheaper option as well – it still counts as being qualified but there is no need to write (or pay to study for) a dissertation.
The trainee programme is a very good way to find out if a library career is for you, and also serves as an excellent foundation for future library work.
I really benefitted from my trainee year, and I would urge anyone considering it to do it! I moved down from Glasgow for it, which was a fairly big move for me, but I had such a good year, and I am always keeping an eye on jobs at the Bodleian in case my circumstances change and I have the opportunity to move back!
For some bonus content, feel free to check out Duncan, Gabrielle and Jenna’s introductory posts to the Bodleian Libraries here:
Special thanks to Josie from the Law Library for the transcription.
What is a college?
Heather (St Edmund Hall): A college is a community of students and staff who are all part of Oxford University, but within the university community they’re also part of their own separate college community. Most colleges have undergraduates and postgraduates, but some colleges are postgraduate only. Some colleges are very big with lots of students and staff, and some are much smaller.
Georgie (St. John’s): Students can get accommodation, catering, and teaching through their college, and as part of that, the college will have its own library.
Jemima (New): There may appear to be some discrepancy between older and newer colleges but they essentially all do the same job for their students. Even though some of them look bigger or older or have a particular reputation, they all serve the same purpose.
How does the library fit into the college?
Jemima: I think generally a college library will cater for most undergraduate academic needs, but from my experience (as a graduate student here) there was more of an expectation that a college library wouldn’t cater for more in-depth academic research. Whether that’s true or not, a college library is definitely more of a centre for undergraduates, perhaps because it’s seen as less overwhelming than a bigger Bodleian library.
Ben (Pembroke): Yes, the library is at it’s heart a hub for students. We have a few postdocs and fellows who use our library, but mostly it’s used by undergraduates and taught postgraduates who all study a wide array of disciplines, reflecting our growing library collection. We’re open 24/7 and the library is also open for all Pembroke staff. Also our library is a space for holding Pembroke’s archives and special collections which attracts visiting researchers and research students.
Heather: It’s definitely more of a direct service for the students, and I think it’s interesting that when people apply to Oxford or Cambridge, they don’t really think about the fact that they’ll have a college library, but it’s actually a really important aspect. It’s really there to cater to a student’s own needs, so at Teddy Hall, for instance, we buy a lot of student requested books, which something you can do through your college library, but is not something Bodleian libraries tend to do.
Lizzie (All Souls): All Souls Library is mainly there for the Fellows* (as there aren’t any undergraduate students at All Souls). The Fellows can request that we buy books, and also if a particular Fellow with a particular research interest is there for a number of years, we can develop a significant collection relating to that interest. But the library does serve a dual purpose because it is also open to external readers. Because the college doesn’t have its own students, if there is a book that is highly requested across the university, or quite expensive, the library will buy that book so that it’s potentially available to all students.
*Fellows are senior members of a college, whose responsibilities typically include teaching, research, administration, and participation in the college’s governance.
Georgie: Another thing to mention is study spaces. College libraries mean that the students who want to use the library can do that somewhere which, in a lot of cases, is near to their accommodation.
Heather: We have height-adjustable desks, and printing and photocopying facilities and they all get used a lot. We’re open 24 hours and you can see from the records that there are people in here throughout day and night.
Jemima: That’s actually a good point: I think a key difference between Bodleian libraries and college libraries is that Bodleian libraries aren’t open as late as college ones. At New, we’re not open 24 hours, but we are open until 2:00 in the morning. I would say that a college library is accessible at most times of day whereas the Bodleian is less so.
Lizzie: At All Souls, all the books are confined so readers can’t borrow them. That means the library is used more as a study space, since it’s very quiet and there are fewer people taking books off shelves, as all the books are locked up (though you can request me to get them for you). The library also serves as a venue for the college for events such as Encaenia, or drink receptions. Sometimes you can be participating in college stuff more than library stuff.
Can you describe your Library in three words?
Heather: Church, friendly, busy.
Ben: Unintimidating, 1970s, welcoming.
Lizzie: Unique, architectural, research.
How many staff members are there in your Library?
Jemima: We have four of us in the main office, basically full-time, then there’s the Archivist, the Curatorial Assistant (who was a trainee last year, and is now part-time), and a Shelving Assistant in the mornings in term time. I think it’s a relatively big team for a college library.
Ben: In the library team, it’s just me and the Librarian, so I often wear multiple hats and juggle jobs such as invigilating researchers, cataloguing, shelving, dissertation-binding, reading list creation, purchasing acquisitions, rare books enquiries, and lots more. Working in a small team is great! There is always something to do, and you gain a well-rounded, and sometimes unexpected experience.
Lizzie: We have a Librarian-in-Charge & Conservator, Senior Assistant Librarian, Assistant Librarian for Digital Resources, and a Graduate Trainee (me!), as well as this, we have the following staff who are part-time: Assistant Librarian for Rare Books, a Clerk to the Archives, and the Serials Librarian (who does cataloguing).
Heather: So, at Teddy Hall, it’s me as the Graduate Trainee, James the Librarian, and Emma who is the Assistant Librarian, and our Archivist, Rob, who is in two days a week. He’s also the Archivist at Oriel and I know that it’s quite common for archivists to be shared across colleges. We also have a Library Fellow on the Library Committee.
Jemima: Yes, I think our Fellow Librarian is involved in important decision-making but I barely see him from day to day. I don’t have very much contact with him at all. It sounds like a similar setup.
Lizzie: I see my Fellow Librarian every day. They do the top-level college stuff and there’s a lot of committees so they sit on those as well.
What’s distinctive about the collection in your Library?
Ben (Pembroke): As much as it is a collection reflecting Pembroke’s history as an institution (Pembroke was founded in 1624), we do have some more rogue objects, often things connected with alumni or past staff, such as Tolkien’s letters (we have an amazing letter where Tolkien writes to a friend that he is starting a book called The Hobbit which he hopes will be a success), Samuel Johnson’s desk, Samuel Johnson’s teapot, a fountain pen used by Lyndon B. Johnson, oh and a WWII Japanese sword!
Jemima (New): We have a very good manuscripts and early printed books special collection – I think that comes with the age and wealth of the college. In fact, about 30-40% of my time is spent invigilating readers who come to use our Special Collections for research.
Heather (St Edmund Hall): Something distinctive about our lending collection is that we have lots of student requests and new acquisitions – we’re working hard to try to diversify what we have. At the moment, I am starting to decolonise our history collection.
What kind of interactions do you have with Library readers?
Heather: Readers ask pretty much anything and everything – I spend about half my time on the issue desk. Our library is in a 12th-century church, so we also have people coming to see the building.
Ben: Fairly, a lot! Questions can be anything from “how do I find this book?” all the way to, “Would it be possible to see ‘x’ manuscript?”. During COVID peaks, when students are self-isolating, I deliver books around college to them. My workspace isn’t usually at an issue desk, but at the start of the year I gave lots of induction talks, so now the readers know who I am. This means they are confident to pop into my office, or stop me around college to ask me questions.
Jemima: We don’t have a specific issue desk (everyone is based in the office), so I don’t interact with readers as much as you two do. But that doesn’t mean they don’t come to the office with questions, mostly if they’re having problems with the self-issue machines or they want to borrow a book but don’t have their Bod (library) card.
How does working in a college compare with your expectations?
Jemima: I hadn’t anticipated how much social media, exhibitions and ‘internal outreach’ work I’d get to do. It’s really nice that so much of my role is about sharing the collection with people in college.
Ben: At Pembroke, the Library and Archives work together a lot of the time, which makes the job all the more fun. I can be climbing ladders in order to hang pictures in the hall one minute, then in the next I can be in the depths of the stacks, then helping out with object talks for students or working with furniture and pictures conservators the next, all the way to reader services enquires. However, I think that’s the product of my library team being so small.
Jemima: Yeah, I think it’s worth saying that I think college library jobs are really varied in terms of what you do and the influence you’re able to have.
Do you get involved with other parts of the College?
Heather: Actually, that’s another thing I was surprised by: you’re part of the College team as well as the Library team. I’ve worked with the Communications team to set up a Library Instagram, and worked with the Housekeeping department on the sustainability project.
Jemima: Although as Graduate Trainee I don’t interact with other departments that often, as a Library and Archives department we collaborate with JCR and MCR committees (similar to a college-based Student Unions) to organise tours, and with the college Warden (i.e. Principal or President) on things like exhibitions.
That concludes our discussion about college library life! We managed to get through the whole thing without mentioning the free college lunches. Oh, no, wait…
Prompted by Black History Month, we trainees have come together to share contributions from Black voices across our libraries and different disciplines. We invite you to look through our selection, consider them through the coming months, and continue celebrating Black history within your reading throughout the year.
Lizzie Dawson, All Souls College Library
Amo, Anton Wilhelm, & Abraham, W. E., Inaugural philosophical dissertation on The “[apatheia]” of the human mind, Accra: Department of Philosophy, University of Ghana. (Psych.18)
While researching All Souls Library’s collection, I found this translation presented by All Souls’ first African-born Prize Fellow, William Abraham (born 1934).
At first sight, this unbound dissertation is easy to overlook, tucked away on the shelves in the book stacks, but it too is an example of a first.
This document is a translation into English by Abraham of a dissertation by Anton Wilhelm Amo (c. 1700-c. 1750) – born in what is now Ghana, enslaved, and then gifted to the Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel – he became the first African person to earn a PhD in philosophy at a European university.
On the 16th of April, 1734, at the University of Wittenberg, Amo defended his dissertation, De Humanae Mentis Apatheia (On the impassivity of the human mind), in which he investigates the logical inconsistencies in René Descartes’ (1596-1650) res cogitans (mind) and res extensa (body) distinction and interaction. One of the 18th century’s most notable Black philosophers, Amo went on to teach philosophy at the Universities of Halle and Jena. You can read the original version of the dissertation with an English translation here.
An influential champion for the cause of abolition, Amo ultimately became embattled by racism and opposition to his beliefs. In 1747, he sailed back to present-day Ghana, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Lorde, Audre, Sister Outsider, London: Penguin, 2019. (DE / POL / 261 / LOR)
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) self-defined as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. She was also a School Librarian in New York during the 1960s. As a feminist and activist for the rights of Black and LGBTQ people, Lorde directly challenged white feminists and Black male intellectuals who neglected the experiences of Black and lesbian women.
Although the term ‘intersectionality’ was not coined until the late 1980s, Lorde’s work repeatedly stressed the danger of neglecting differences between women. Sister Outsider (1984) features essays and speeches including her landmark “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” In this essay, Lorde argues that although women have been taught to use these differences to separate themselves from other women, or else ignore them, it is only by acknowledging these differences that women’s oppression can be understood and overcome.
Lorde also comments that women are expected to educate men, and Black women are expected to educate white feminists. Reading and listening to the voices of Black women helps people of all races and genders understand how Black women’s experiences are impacted by race, gender, sexuality, class, and age, but relies upon the emotional labour of often marginalised writers. As Lorde writes, poetry is the most accessible and economical form of literature because it can be written ‘between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway and on scraps of surplus paper’. Her perspective challenged me to reconsider poetry, a form I had often associated with elite white male writers, a legacy perhaps of the kind of poets still studied most widely in schools.
Sister Outsider is part of our Diversity & Equality Collection, which showcases writing by and about people in underrepresented and marginalized groups. This collaborative project began last year, with members from across the College making book recommendations. The Collection includes various disciplines, from History and Politics, to Classics, Music, Languages and more. My predecessor as Graduate Trainee was involved with the beginning of the Collection, helping reclassify items in the existing Library catalogue and acquire new material. Now, when I process our latest acquisitions, I am involved in helping the Collection grow.
Babalola, Bolu. Love in Colour: Mythical Tales From Around the World, Retold. London: Headline, 2021. (S33 BAB:Lov (A))
“It’s important to be able to see Black people and people of colour in love – and in these hopeful contexts that aren’t mired with darkness and strife […] reality is that we’re just living our lives and we’re falling in love as Black people”
(Bolu Babalola, ‘Interview: Bolu Babalola on Love, Diversity, Redefining Romance’ (2020)
Joining the Black History Month 2021 campaign ‘Proud to Be’, Teddy Hall Library worked closely with student BAME Officer Jeevi Bali (2019, Jurisprudence) to showcase Black authors this October. Bolu Babalola’s debut book Love in Colour was one of the books bought new for a display specifically celebrating Black British authors.
In Bolu’s own words, Love in Colour is a“step towards decolonizing tropes of love”. Through brand-new tales and retellings of love stories from history, folklore and mythology, Bolu explores love as at once intrinsically universal, and complexly personal. We move with Bolu and her characters across time, continents and genres; as she brings together West African folklore, her own bad date experiences, Greek mythology, and her parents’ romance. Perhaps most moving in the collection is Bolu’s attention questions of sight. Who is seen, who wants to be seen, who is allowed to see, are questions which circle all love stories, and they are questions which Bolu beautifully considers and handles throughout her collection. For Bolu, Love in Colour is at its core about romance. To potential readers, she says: “If you like romance, you’ll like this book; it’s as simple as that”.
Himid, Lubaina, Lisa Panting, and Malin Ståhl. Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual. London: Koenig Books, 2018 (N6797.H5635 A4 LUB 2018)
‘Using her theatre background Himid construct ambiguous scenes, at times populated and other times not. We are not quite sure if what we are presented with is a safe place or a place of danger, if the protagonists are under threat or are in control of the situation. The vibrant colours and beautiful patterns, clothes and landscapes attract the viewer into situations that are not yet fixed. Himid’s protagonists are mostly black, and well dressed in clothes that point us to different moments and contexts; inviting us to consider our position and role in histories and what we subsequently do with them.’
(‘Introduction’, Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl, p 52)
Lubaina Himid is a Zanzibarian-born British painter, based in Preston. She has spent the course of her career exploring untold stories and Black history through reams of colour and carefully-composed figures. Indeed, her singular work championing Black creativity, institutionally obscured throughout history, lead to Himid winning the Turner Prize 2017. She was the first Black female artist to win the prize, and continues to celebrate other Black artists through her work in curation and activism.
Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual is a collection of Himid’s work and writings, encompassing over four decades of canvas painting, cut-out figures, and installation art. Although varied, her works tie together in a kaleidoscope of colour and vibrancy. Readers can see British crockery overpainted with maps, faces, and west African patterns; selected pages of The Guardian show how images and words connect in the press to harm perceptions of Black identity; painted planks of wood which celebrate the importance of one’s own past, which she reflected on when travelling in South Korea. Each are incredibly meaningful and evocative. Unfailingly, her works prompts viewers to consider hidden narratives of Black history within British culture and beyond. This is the crux of Himid’s work, creating an internal response within others and reminding them of the true world they live in.
The Manual includes ‘The Lost Election Posters’, a series of paintings mimicking typical political campaigns. Himid intends – and successfully, too – to evoke questions of who is represented across powerful institutions. In her own words, the later part of the series ‘are essentially portraits of potential power’ (see photographed). These comprise some of my personal favourites in the book, and I would recommend anyone in the Sackler taking time to appreciate it.
‘I make this work, and have always made it, for other black women. These conversations are and have always been important. I want to show that our lives are complex yet ordinary, filled with the same weight of what has been done to us but at the same time normal and boring too’ (‘A Conversation between Lubaina Himid, Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl, Hollybush Gardens’, p 293-299)
You can read more about Lubaina Himid here: https://lubainahimid.uk/
[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]
Jemima Bennett, New College Library
Marechera, Dambudzo. The House of Hunger. Harlow: Heinemann,2009. (LIT/MAR)
‘My whole life has been an attempt to make myself the skeleton in my own cupboard. I have been an outsider in my own biography, in my country’s history, in the world’s terrifying possibilities.’
Novelist, short story writer, and poet, Dambudzo Marechera (1952-1987) was born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. A student at New College, Oxford, from 1974, he was eventually sent down after a turbulent two years and repeated clashes with staff and students. Shortly afterwards, in 1978, his first book, The House of Hunger, was published, winning the 1979 Guardian Fiction Prize. Two more of Marechera’s books were published in his lifetime,Black Sunlight(1980), Mindblast(1984), with three others, including a collection of poetry, published posthumously.
The House of Hunger, a collection of short stories, consists of nine interlinked stories concerning Marechera’s childhood and youth in a Rhodesian slum, with the rest of the stories focusing on his time in Oxford. Marechera leaves his readers in no doubt of the sense of otherness and alienation which he felt while he was in Oxford: the story, ‘Black Skin What Mask’, begins with the statement ‘my skin sticks out a mile in all the crowds here’. His writing has been described as abrasive and he himself called his experience of writing in English, rather than his first language Shona, as a matter of ‘discarding grammar, throwing syntax out, subverting images from within, beating the drum and cymbals of rhythm, developing torture chambers of irony and sarcasm, gas ovens of limitless black resonance.’
‘“I got my things and left” is the coolest opening line in African fiction. Marechera is nothing like any African writer before him’ (Helon Habila)
All quotations taken from The House of Hunger (see reference).
Boakye, Jeffrey. Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored. London: Dialogue Books, 2019. (HT1581.BOA 2019)
“Call me Black and you’ll remind me that, racially, I’m everything I’m not, which makes me everything I am. Call me Black and I won’t even flinch because I’m so used to calling myself Black that it’s become the invisible lens. A perspective that has hardened into an objective truth. Call me Black and I’ll welcome the definition, despite the fact that it denigrates just as much as it defines. Call me Black and I’ll flinch. Call me Black and I won’t even flinch.”
Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye is an exploration of Black British culture through the descriptors used by and for Black people in the UK. Boakye examines how words and labels can reinforce stereotypes or alternatively create a sense of community. He explores 21st Century Black British identity through an analysis of pop culture and autobiographical anecdotes. The book begins with Boakye recalling how he’s “been Black since about 1988”, the first time that he was made aware of the “otherness” of his skin colour by his classmates in primary school. The theme of Black identity in the UK being perceived as an otherness runs deep throughout the book, as Boakye explores how the Black British community has been represented, oppressed, celebrated and discriminated against.
Touching on everything from the Grime scene to global Black history and the experiences of the Windrush generation, Boakye provides an accessible and entertaining yet raw and insightful view of what it means to be Black in Britain today. I would recommend it to anyone looking to question what purpose labels serve, and in what ways they can be helpful and in what ways they isolate.
Marson, U. & Donnell, A., 2011. Selected poems, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press. (PR9265.9.M37 A6 MAR 2011)
Una Marson was born in 1905 in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. By the time she first left Jamaica, she had published two poetry collections, founded the feminist periodical Cosmopolitan, and wrote her first play and had it staged. She bought her first ticket to London in 1932, but moved back and forth between Jamaica and London multiple times throughout her life. Outside of poetry, her career was busy and varied, with highlights including:
Author and Director of the first Black production on the West End with her play At What Price.
Editor of and Contributor to The Keys, the journal of the League of Coloured Peoples (of which she was a prominent member)
Head of the West Indies Service for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Founder of the BBC’s ‘Caribbean Voices’.
Speaker at the conference of the British Commonwealth League
Speaker at the conference of the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage and Equal Citizenship
Secretary to Haile Selassie (Emperor of Ethiopia) during his exile to London
In the words of Alison Donnell, editor of this collection, Marson is not often enough noted as the “women poet whose works pioneered the articulation of gender and racial oppression, brought Jamaican vernacular voices alongside a Wordsworthian passion for nature, and ventured to give subjectivity to powerless and marginalised subjects.” (p.11) This collection pulls together a broad selection of her work (published and unpublished) to try to present a complete picture of Marson’s poetics – as contrasting as it is enlightening.
In total, Marson published four poetry collections. Her work as a poet is as varied as her life, with a wide range of influences from European forms and models of her earlier work to the use of blues forms and dialect in her later work. Thematically speaking, her poetry often focused on Black representation, gender politics, religion, immigration, nature, love, Jamaica, and war. Despite the heavy topics, she often dwells on beauty, hope, and the uplifting. See this extract, for example, from the deceptively titled ‘Black Burden’ (pp.146-147):
Black girl – what a burden –
But your shoulders
Black girl – what a burden –
But your courage is strong –
Black girl your burden
Will fall from your shoulders
Una Marson: Selected Poems is now available to loan from the English Faculty Library, newly acquired this month.
Marson, U. & Donnell, A., 2011. Selected poems, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press.
Snaith, A. (2014) “Una Marson: ‘Little Brown Girl’ in a ‘White, White City,’” in Modernist Voyages: Colonial Women Writers in London, 1890–1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 152–174. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139018852
Hello! I’m Lizzie and I am the new Graduate Trainee for All Souls College Library. I spend much of my time in the beautiful eighteenth-century Great Library, doing admin in the library office, reshelving in the stacks or haunting the cellars (where books are also kept).
My background is in English Literature, completing an MA in English Literary Studies at Durham a few years ago. After graduating, I knew wanted a career working with books. Before my traineeship, I worked in academic publishing – which crosses over a little with librarianship – and so I have had some prior experience dealing with books and databases. I heard about the traineeship through an academic librarian, but I was unsuccessful in my applications before COVID-19 hit and stopped everything, including libraries. I knew librarianship was something I wanted to pursue further so I worked remotely on a project for a college library in Cambridge to gain some more experience and applied again – and I was successful!
The library experience at All Souls is unique and diverse. Unlike other college libraries, All Souls does not have any students; instead, the library has a ‘three-way’ aspect: supporting the college’s fellows, welcoming readers from across the university, and working with international researchers. The library has been closed over the summer, so I have yet to see a Reader, but no day has been the same. During September, the library has hosted several big university events, such as Encaenia and the prize fellowship examinations.
All Souls can appear mysterious from the outside – and there are many tourists often peering in through the gates on Radcliffe Square eager to get a glimpse of Oxford’s ‘most exclusive’ college — however, All Souls College Library is open to any member of the University (as well as outside students and researchers) to apply to become a Reader, so long as you have a research need. The library has a speciality in European, Military and Naval History and Law; it is also home to many treasures of early printed books and substantial archives, as well as a significant collection of drawings by Christopher Wren. You can see more of the library’s collection which has been digitalized on the library website.
My traineeship promises to be an interesting year; I am looking forward to discovering more about All Souls and its library.
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…
Our training afternoons are scheduled in line with the eight-week terms of Oxford, the names of which can bemuse newcomers to the university, though now, at the end of Trinity Term, I think that I have assimilated it. Since the last update in February, there have been many more training courses, including lots of library visits—everyone likes a library visit.
First, though, there were several talks by people working elsewhere in the Bodleian and even in other sectors, such as the session on the book trade, where we heard from people who work at Blackwell’s and the antiquarian dealer Quaritch. This was an interesting look into a different, though related, area of work. Talks by those who worked at Osney in the Collections and Resource Description department, which is a central Bodleian Libraries department, were also very interesting. This covered areas such as the processes of acquisitions (ordering, processing, and all the many and diverse tasks attached, on behalf of the main Bodleian and several smaller libraries), electronic resources (the only element of the Bodleian that is completely centralised), legal deposit operations (including developments in electronic legal deposit), resource description and open access. Much of the information here was on things that I already knew about tangentially through my work at the Law Library, or explanations of mysterious processes that I know of but didn’t know the background of. It made me feel part of the community, however, being able to nod wisely at the mention of Swets’ demise or the fact that legal deposit books beginning with ‘M’ are catalogued at Osney as part of the Shared Cataloguing Programme run by the British library.
In Trinity Term we have also had talks from subject librarians on the role of subject consultant, and talks by the Head of Assessment and the Head of Heritage Science for the Bodleian Libraries. We learnt that a liaison librarian, a reference librarian and a research support librarian may be a similar job to a subject consultant, but that by the same token, a subject librarian’s role is very particular to their institution and their department. The various responsibilities were covered, from those to do with the subject collection and library management duties, to reader services, library projects and outreach and conferences. We then had an exercise on handling budgets, which saw my team – in charge of the slightly larger budget for science – overspend by £14,000. Before any future employers bury their heads in their hands, I’d like to point out that the game was rigged! It was pre-ordained that science’s budget would be the one greatest hit by expensive e-journal packages and VAT increases, no matter how conservative we were with our money initially. We definitely kept our readers happy with lots of resources though, even though the central finance department probably wouldn’t be best pleased. In the later set of talks, Frankie Wilson, Head of Assessment, told us all about how to gain meaningful feedback on library services, while David Howell showed us round his bespoke lab in the Weston Library in order to tell us a bit about the role of science in uncovering library treasures, a unique aid to research and one that hit the headlines when David’s hyperspectrometry revealed an ancient Mexican codex palimpsest.
Then there were the library visits. First, to the digital archives and then to All Souls’ Codrington Library, which was a striking contrast between the old and the new: the latest in digital archiving systems at the Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts department and the long tradition in All Souls’ Codrington Library, founded in the fifteenth century. At BEAM, we learnt that a hard drive has roughly half the lifetime of a cassette tape, and digital archiving seeks to preserve many types of slowly obsolescing technologies. The challenge of collecting and storing data from diverse electronic mediums, including floppy disks, CDs and flash drives, is considerable, and we learnt about the various strategies that are in place for each of them. There is also the task of archiving the web, and the Bodleian has several areas of interest that are regularly crawled and archived, a process that is also not without its challenges. By contrast, at the Codrington, the weight of centuries lingers in the air. The beautiful hall and the wonderful librarians’ office (with its spiral staircase and wall-to-wall books, it’s every bookworm’s dream) have a history all of their own, and we had a talk from the librarian, Gaye, on both the library and some of its collections. We heard about our fellow trainee and her role in the small library team, and had the chance to ask some questions.
Next there was the Alexander Library of Ornithology, the Sherardian Library and the Radcliffe Science Library, which were fascinating, despite not having a single science degree among us. In the Sherardian, we heard about the Herbarium, where pressed plants that act as authority records for plant types, and are accompanied by the print collections which are used alongside the library of plants in order to support current and historical research in botany. We saw a first edition of Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’, and William Dampier’s account of his circumnavigations of the globe which brought a wealth of knowledge back to Britain (as well as being the inspiration for books such as R.L. Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’), and we also learnt about figures such as Sherard, Druce, and Fielding, important for the Oxford collections. At the RSL, after a quick tour, the pièce de résistance was clearly the 3-D printer. Having been sceptical about when I first saw it on the itinerary, I went away understanding how such technology services fit into the RSL’s ethos and enthusiastic about what we’d be shown. By offering access to such technology early on, as they did with e-book readers and will be doing with virtual reality hardware, the RSL is able to grant students and researchers access to technology that would be hard to find elsewhere, and facilitate learning through their services—in other words, exactly what a library is there for.
More recently, in Trinity Term, we have branched out from academia and visited Summertown Public Library and the Cairns Library at John Radcliffe Hospital. Both gave us insights into these areas of librarianship, public and medical, which bring different daily tasks, rewards, and challenges. In particular, I was impressed by Summertown library’s collaboration with the local council, where council workers and careers advisors came to meet people in drop-in sessions to get involved in two-way training with library staff, meaning that access to computers and internet – needed for everything from job applications to housing and benefit forms – could be coupled with some of the necessary context from professionals. It just goes to show how essential libraries can be. Meanwhile, at the Cairns library, a particular added feature of medical librarianship that I enjoyed hearing about was the literature searches conducted by the librarians—yes, for free—on behalf of the doctors.
Finally, there were a few extra courses that I went on, Advanced Searching: overview of Google and alternative search tools, Annual Review Training for Reviewees, and Practical Skills: minute taking. These were all relevant for my work in the Law Library, and in particular the course on advanced searching with Google, run by Karen Blakeman, was very interesting and has affected the way that I search online. The final run of training in Trinity Term will mark the end of our afternoon sessions, and it will culminate in the Trainee Showcase, where we give presentations on the projects that we have undertaken throughout the year.