LGBTQ+ History Month at the Bodleian Law Library

British LGBTQ+ history has an involved and often traumatic relationship to the Law. At the Bodleian Law Library (BLL), we’ve taken the opportunity to highlight some of those relationships through a display of our primary and secondary collections. In this post, we want to briefly touch on just a few pieces of legislation, currently on display or accessible on open shelf in the BLL, that were vital to the progression of LGBTQ+ rights in the UK, showing how the Law Library can be a key resource for studying its history.

Three books on display against the background of a rainbow flag
Physical copies of the Wolfenden Report, a Homosexual Law Reform Society annual report, and Peter Wildeblood’s memoir.

In 1954, Peter Wildeblood, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Michael Pitt-Rivers were convicted for “consensual homosexual offences” and sentenced to 12 to 18 months in prison. The trial invigorated a reform movement that triggered a Commons “committee on homosexual offences” that, in 1957, would publish the seminal Wolfenden Report, which advised that “‘Homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private be no longer a criminal offence”. The report was debated in parliament, but the government did not act on its recommendations, galvanising new organisations agitating for gay rights, such as the Homosexual Law Reform Society (a 1960s report of the Society is on display in the Law Library). Also in the Law Library, you can read the Wolfenden Report itself, as well as Wildeblood’s brave memoir Against the Law, which appeared in the same year.

Picture of a book display showing various primary and secondary resources related to LGBTQ+ history
Part of the LGBTQ+ History Month display at the Bodleian Law Library.

The library-held collections of historical and in-force statutes (such as Halsbury’s or online legal databases like Westlaw or Lexis+ subscribed to by the Bodleian – see the list of legal databases at Legal databases | Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk); not quite as up to date but freely accessible to everyone is the government’s own Legislation.gov.uk) are a key source of LGBTQ+ history. In 1967, ten year after the recommendations in the Wolfenden report, the Sexual Offences Act finally decriminalised in-private sex between men over 21 (i.e. only a partial decriminalisation: the age of consent, moreover, was not equalised until 2000). Another key statute is the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which finally gave Trans people the legal right to full recognition of their gender (we also hold the 2018 parliamentary consultation material regarding its reform). And there is the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act of 2013, which legalised gay marriage, or the 2010 Equality Act, Britain’s key anti-discrimination legislation. All these laws have a direct impact on people’s daily lives and experiences, as well as our sense of what kind of society we are and/or want to be.

The BLL does not only hold the final product when it comes to legislation. In the Official Papers collection, the often fascinating (and not rarely disturbing) parliamentary history of LGBTQ+ – related legislation can be followed, for instance through the debate reports printed in Hansard (also online at https://hansard.parliament.uk/). From the first discussion of Lesbianism in parliament in 1921 (a Criminal Law Amendment bill, which would have criminalised all sex between women, was defeated in the House of Lords that year) to the long history of the repeal of the repressive section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (which prohibited the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities, inspiring the activism of Stonewall and OutRage!), readers can discover how House discussions and committee reports reflected (or not) debates, prejudices, advocacy and reform in wider society. Behind the glass of the main reading room, for instance, three volumes on display chart the repeal of section 28: from the 1988 introduction of the paragraph which offensively termed gay partnerships “pretended family relationships” into the 1986 Local Government Act, over the introduction of repeal in the Standing Committee stage of the 2003 Local Government Bill, to the eventual enactment of repeal in the Local Government Act 2003 (a government apology, however, did not follow until 2009).

Two statute books and a parliamentary committee report on display, resting on bookstands.
Tracing the repeal of Section 28 at the BLL

If you want to know more, a good first place to start is the Oxford LibGuide prepared by the Law Library: Home – LGBTI law – Oxford LibGuides at Oxford University. The secondary literature on display until the end of this month in the main reading room, moreover, highlights not only titles about the UK, but also the US, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. On the first floor of the library, in addition, there are extensive collections of statutes from Australia, Canada, India, and many other jurisdictions: on the first of February, for instance, we displayed the Canadian Civil Marriage Act, which legalised same-sex marriage in the country on that day in 2005 (on the same day in 2009, incidentally, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the prime minister of Iceland, and with it the world’s first openly gay head of government).

There are many more legal resources accessible through the library, either in physical form (such as reports on the trial of Oscar Wilde, notoriously convicted under the infamous Labouchère Amendment of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, at KB65.ENG.WIL on the second floor), or in electronic form. As such, the library constitutes an excellent resource in remembering and making visible LGBTQ+ history, the constraints and repressions that the Law has inflicted, and the trajectory of its reform and the construction of anti-discrimination legislation.

 

Happy Christmas from the Oxford Library Trainees!

Well! It’s the last day before Christmas closure at the Bodleian Library, and as I am writing this, I imagine that some of the trainees in other libraries are making their way back to family and friends for Christmas. It’s been magical to see how Oxford libraries transform at Christmas time. There have been carols in the Divinity School sung by Bodleian staff, busts decorated with Santa hats, and Christmas trees springing up all over our different sites.  

Like the trainees last year, this year we decided to explore our libraries in the festive season through the medium of our very own 12 Days of Christmas- or should I say, Libmas! Originally posted over on our X (Twitter) X/Twitter account below is a list of all the presents that our libraries have ‘sent’ to us, and now to you!  (Singing along is optional.) 

On the First Day of Libmas, my library sent to me- 

A bust of Chichele! 

Henry Chichele was the founder of All Souls College and also Archbishop of Canterbury from 1414-43. One of our trainees has the privilege of working in the library there! 

 

On the Second Day of Libmas my library sent to me-  

Two book displays 

Part of the trainee role is getting to be creative with book displays. Pictured below are some Christmas book sculptures from the Social Science Library. How cute! 

 

On the Third day of Libmas my library sent to me-  

Three window frogs! 

According to cataloguer Peter Spokes, much of the painted glass in the Old Bodleian Upper Reading Room is of 17th century Flemish origin! 

Top right frog has definitely had too much Christmas pudding. 

 

On the Fourth day of Libmas my library sent to me- 

Four festive busts! 

Pictured below are busts of Professor Hermann Georg Fiedler, Prince Edward and Voltaire. 

  

 

On the Fifth Day of Libmas my library sent to me- 

Five old things! 

1)A papyrus dating from 3 AD from St John’s College, in which the recipient is asked why they didn’t attend the sender’s son’s birthday party ! 

 

 

 

2) MS 61 – a rather lovely 13th century bestiary made in York! 

3) A copy of the 27 Sermons preached by Hugh Latimer and held at the English Faculty Library! This edition was printed in 1562 by John Day, seven years after Latimer was burnt at the stake for heresy on Broad Street near Balliol college in Oxford. 

4) One of a series of letters written by Jane Austen to her niece Anna in 1814. St John’s College also owns a 1797 letter from Austen’s father, George, to a publishing house, offering them his daughter’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – they said no! 

5) Last but certainly not least in our list of old things, a book on Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules! Although still used in some select libraries, AACR and AACR2 were a cataloguing standard that have largely been superseded by machine-readable cataloguing, known as MARC 

 

On the Sixth Day of Libmas my library sent to me-  

Six Christmas data charts!  

With roast spuds as the top dish, average Christmas budget, most desired gifts, total UK Xmas spending, average Christmas dinner cost, and toys as largest gift spend! Sprouts beat mince pies…hmm? 

 

On the Seventh Day of Libmas my library sent to me- 

Seven damaged books! 

It’s inevitable that some of the Bodleian’s collections will become a little careworn, however, it’s important that they are able to keep circulating. This is when the lovely Bodleian conservation team step in! 

 

On the Eighth day of Libmas my library sent to me-  

Eight totes for packing!  

Artfully (?) arranged by a trainee into a very vague christmas tree shape, these totes contain books to be refiled in our Collections Storage Facility. 

 

On the Ninth day of Libmas my library sent to me- 9 ladies’ dancing (manuals)  

Exhibited in Blackwell Hall, Weston Library, ‘The Dancing Master’ was a widely popular manual of country dances, first published in 1651. 

The Weston Library is holding a Dancing Master’s Ball in January- join the waiting list here: The Dancing Master’s Ball | Visit the Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk)  

Or learn more about the display: The Dancing Master | Visit the Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk) 

 

On the Tenth day of Libmas my library sent to me-  

10 pre-Raphaelite murals! 

In 1857, 8 artists including Rossetti, Morris and Burne-Jones, painted the #OxfordUnion’s Old Library (then Debate Chamber). Their inexperience meant the art faded and some said it should be covered. 

Read more about the murals and the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Oxford here: OXFORD AND THE PRE-RAPHAELITES | Ashmolean Museum 

On the Eleventh Day of Libmas my library sent to me- 

Eleven (House of) Lords (Hansard parliamentary sittings reports) a-leaping (on to their trolley)! Did you know the Bodleian Law Library also houses the Official Papers collection? 

On the Twelth day of Libmas my library sent to me- 

Twelve libraries with trainees wish you a very merry Christmas!

Thank you all for reading our blog and engaging with our X posts over Michaelmas term. There is lots more to come in 2024, so watch this space!  

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us! 

Michaelmas term round-up

As the libraries empty out over the Christmas vacation, the trainees reflect on their first term.

 

A display including fact sheets and images of suggested titles such as Ableism in Academia and The Oxford Handbook of Disability History
The Disability History Month Display in the Old Bod Lower Reading Room

Christmas at the Old Bod has arrived, and although in the last week there have been fewer visitors, the reading rooms are still peopled with studious readers. I’ve put up some fabulous Christmas decorations (circa 1970), and the tree in the quad has drawn even more tourists in.

The past few months working at the Bodleian have been a lot of fun. One of my favourite activities has been making displays and advertising resources that the Bodleian has to offer, like my recent book display for UK Disability History Month . It means I get to interact with a wider variety of books from our vast collection. What it has fundamentally shown me is that my favourite part of working in a library is the opportunities you are given every day to help people!

Nia Everitt, Bodleian Old Library 

 

 

 

My first term at the Sainsbury Library has been busy with tasks varying from processing new books, weeding old journals, and creating and updating signs for the library (which sometimes involves warming up the laminator!). I have three main highlights so far:

  1. Creating a ‘How to Guide’ for readers with Sainsbury’s Circulation and Customer Services Librarian. The guide covers topics like setting up the university VPN, how to use PCAS services, and how to search, find, borrow and request books in our library. It is over 60 pages long and counting…
  2. Creating an AI book display which then led to creating an AI window display at the library entrance and now updating our Business of AI LibGuide to include books from the display and A visitor even came in asking about the display because they saw the post I wrote on our Sainsbury Library News blog.

Both projects have helped me to learn about the variety of support and services that the Bodleian provides. I have explored business databases, SOLO, ORLO, and other University of Oxford resources doing these two projects. I have realised that readers at Oxford have access to a wealth of resources but, through working on the enquiry desk, you come to realise how many readers do not know about it! So, the final highlight is:

  1. Helping a reader discover something they didn’t know before and helping them with problems they have accessing services.

The reader’s gratefulness after helping or even just visiting the library is like extra icing on a cake. The gratefulness is a reminder that helping someone in a way that, as staff we may feel is small or routine, such as scanning a chapter, telling someone about a useful LibGuide or just showing them where the printers are, can be quite significant for our readers.

Anna Roberts, Sainsbury Library

 

What a learning experience a term can be. ALMA, ORLO lists, law reports, legal databases, citation styles, serials processing, loose leaf binders: they were all quite new to me. Happily, thanks to the great training and brilliant support from library colleagues, they aren’t anymore. But never fear: the readers and the library keep coming up with new and intriguing conundrums (missing books, obscure queries, rare Bodcard colours…). I’ve loved assisting the students, faculty and visitors (there was one reader who was so enthusiastic when I showed them our bookable study spaces that I got the firmest handshake I have ever experienced!), but equally have come to really appreciate the mindful calm that can come from a book moving or filing spell (when not interrupted by an urgent scan request for use in court, or a group of new readers to guide round, or a puzzling mountain of books left somewhere seemingly at random – there’s always something going on!). And of course, our visits to the CSF, conservation studio and special collections were a real highlight. The term has certainly confirmed that I’d love a career in libraries, and I’m looking forward to the next term, when there will be a recurring display to organise, some more to learn about cataloguing, and a Libguide to write! Keeping busy…

Wanne Mendonck, Bodleian Law Library

 

A Christmas tree stands on a marble table in the Union Society Old Library. There are bookcases and decorative walls visible in the background.
Christmas tree standing on the mysteriously chimneyless fireplace in the Union Society Old Library.

Working for the Oxford Union Society Library is amazing! This term the Union was visited by Sir Roger Penrose, Nazanin Zaghari Radcliffe, Tom Hanks, etc and I have tried things I have never attempted before, such as creating displays – possibly my favourite task as I get to research everything from Victorian ichthyology to recreational drugs, Oxfordshire geology to gothic poetry, and medieval table manners to historical transgender figures. I had never used Twitter, never posted on Facebook, and had never run a professional Instagram account and this term I began running the Library’s (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). Training can be pretty interesting too; so far my favourite day has been the conservation day at the Weston Library where we learnt how books are fixed, what pests to look out for (we were handed round laminated insects e.g. silverfish), and about active and inactive moulds.

Connie Hubbard, Oxford Union Society Library

 

This term has been a wild ride. Alongside learning an incredible amount from my training process at All Souls, there have been some amazing events in the library such as a play, a visit from a youth orchestra and a formal dinner. We had over 700 new reader applications, over 1000 visitors to our open day and over 200 book requests. All in all, these first few months of my traineeship have been immensely positive. The day to day work has often been chaotic, but this meant I was rarely bored and always learning. I am very excited for the challenges Hilary term may bring, and feel ready to face them.

Elena Trowsdale, All Souls College Library

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three and a half months since my first day at the Rad Cam – the time has flown by! But when I stop and reflect, a lot has happened over this period, and I have learned a lot.

Besides some of the big stand-out moments from the training sessions, such as the tour of the CSF or our afternoon with Special Collections, I think the main highlights for me have been the pleasure of helping out readers and the variety of the work; my days regularly involve fielding enquiries at the circulation desk or reception, fetching and scanning books for Scan and Deliver, donning glamorous high vis and directing delivery vans through the quad, creating blog or social media content, processing new books, and more. I enjoyed getting to take on the responsibility recently of sorting out the HFL books for rebinding, and I’m really looking forward to getting started with my project next term.

Xanthe Malcolm, History Faculty Library

 

It’s safe to say that as my first full term as a trainee draws to a close, the experience has been jam-packed! From the day-to-day running of the EFL, to our weekly training sessions (not to mention the cheeky post-training pub trips) there’s always something going on, and always something new to learn. Looking back at my introduction post, I can easily say that I’ve enjoyed everything even more than I thought I would. Highlights being (of course) the tour of conservation studios; the opportunity to see incredible literary figures such as Philip Pullman; and learning more about the EFL’s collections through my project! Being a part of the traineeship has really cemented that I want to continue working in libraries and, having seen next terms’ training schedule, I’m even more excited for the new year.

Leah Brown, English Faculty Library

Bonfire Night and the Development of a Tradition

 

5th November 1605. A day that would live on in a nation’s memory for centuries, encapsulated by a rhyme which few remember ever being taught:

Remember, remember the fifth of November. 

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

yellow flame
A modern Bonfire Night

Supposedly the nursery rhyme goes beyond these two sentences, however the passage of time has determined that only the first two are the most important.

For what is a rather macabre celebration, if you think too much into it, Bonfire Night is an incredibly fun night. Modern celebrations now revolve mostly around dramatic firework displays, at least this is the case in Oxford, but the bonfires remain. Over the years it has developed into one of Britain’s biggest commemorations, celebrated by children and adults equally.

We all know the story, how Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar, about to light the barrels of gunpowder, hoping to assassinate both King and Parliament. Following his arrest and the discovery of the plot, King James I (and VI) declared the 5th November to be a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate their escape from annihilation. And so, the tradition began. Guys in prams as children called ‘a penny for the guy’, homemade Guys placed onto bonfires to be lit, fireworks and sparklers.

5th November 1605, Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. 1 1547 – 1628, pp. 256 – 7, Official Papers, Bodleian Law Library.

 

Such events are a far cry from a locked shelf on the bottom floor of the Law Library, where the Journals of the House of Commons describe those hallowed events of November 4th/5th, 1605 [1].

It describes the arrest, as they discovered ‘One Johnson, Servant to Mr Thomas Percy’. John Johnson was the pseudonym which Guy Fawkes had picked (no relation to the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera held by the Bodleian Library, although we would encourage you check that out!) [2]. It was picked because it was British and commonplace – one look at the Wikipedia page for ‘John Johnson’ and you will see he chose rightly.  Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found underneath the House of Commons with the intention of blowing up the ‘King, and the whole Company, when they should there assemble’. The origins of ‘The Plot’.

The House of Commons Journals are not the only contemporary artefact of the Plot nearby, as on another Oxford ground floor, only 15 minutes away, the Ashmolean Museum holds the iron lantern supposedly carried by Guy Fawkes the night of his arrest [3]. The lantern was gifted to the University in 1641, by Robert Heywood, whose brother Peter was one of those who discovered Guy Fawkes in the undercroft and, as the story goes, took the lantern off him, preventing him from setting off the gunpowder.

It was not the first of such attempts by Catholic conspirators to assassinate the Protestant King James, but perhaps it was how close they were to success that led James to proclaim a day of Thanksgiving. A celebration of his escape from death, but a warning too, to any conspirators who may follow.

The events of the night of the 4th/5th of November 1605 and those of 21st century Bonfire Night are hard to reconcile. While reading the Journals of the House of Commons, one cannot help but muse on the development of tradition.

Title page, Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. 1 1547 – 1628, Official Papers, Bodleian Law Library.

What if you’d told Guy Fawkes in October 1605, that his own name, not his pseudonym, would become a part of everyday conversation? Or, that he was the namesake of one of Britain’s most enduring holidays? He would surely assume it was for entirely different reasons than we remember.

The concept now, of celebrating a failed assassination attempt with bonfires and fireworks, is albeit an odd idea, but one only has to ask around the Oxford colleges to learn how much odder traditions survive. Such traditions are captured moments in time, perhaps not of the authentic activities, but of how societies viewed themselves.  Libraries hold a fundamental role in the safeguarding of tradition and staring at the House of Commons Journals brings a reminder of the vital role of information preservation in our world. Bonfire Night is a fascinating snapshot of what our ancestors believed would be important for our generations to remember. One wonders, in another 400 years, in another library, what events from our day will be written on the pages of tradition.

 

 

The Official Papers Collection is housed on the ground floor of the Bodleian Law Library. 

Official Papers | Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk)

 

 

[1] 5th November 1605, Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. 1 1547 – 1623, pp. 256 – 7, Official Papers, Bodleian Law Library.

[2] About the John Johnson Collection | Bodleian Libraries (ox.ac.uk)

[3] GUY FAWKES’ LANTERN | Ashmolean Museum

Lara Hatwell, Bodleian Law Library

Hello! I’m Lara, one of two trainees at the Law Library this year, alongside Wanne, who beat me to the punch with his introductory post!

Immediately before joining the trainee programme, I had just finished my undergraduate degree in Ancient and Modern History at Lincoln College  – so I haven’t travelled far! Despite this, I had never once set foot in the Law Library, and was pleasantly surprised with how it looked inside, as from the outside it looks rather square and imposing. As most young people who love books, I’d always entertained the idea of working in a library, but was unwilling to fully commit to taking another degree, without knowing whether library work was the right fit for me. While working in some other historic sights of Oxford, such as the Ashmolean Museum and Christ Church college, I saw the trainee programme and I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

The rolling stacks of Official Papers

The two Law Library trainees are split between Information Resources (me) and Academic Services (Wanne). This means I am much more involved with initial processing of books, and have spent much of my first month labelling, stamping and figuring out how to work the printer (the labels always print slightly slanted so this is a much harder task than it first may appear). Aside from this, a rather unexpected, but particularly enjoyable undertaking has been the sorting of official documents sent from the Irish Government. This is because the Law Library is also home to Official Papers, which houses British and Irish parliamentary papers and publications of other international organisations such as the United Nations. I am acquiring niche knowledge on various Bills and Acts (such as in 2021 the Irish Government banned the import of non-native honeybees – Bill No. 133 of 2021), which I hope will one day be put to use in a dramatic final round of a pub quiz.

Over the past week, the library has begun to grow much more alive, having been quite quiet when we first started. It’s been great to chat to all the new and returning students, although it really is challenging my knowledge of where everything is – I promise I do usually know, what I have yet to work out is how to give easy-to-follow directions. In the coming months, I’m looking forward to exploring all the different facets of academic librarianship and mastering the ground plan of the library!

Wanne Mendonck, Bodleian Law Library

Hello all! I’m Wanne, one of the two trainees in the Bodleian Law Library this year, working in its Academic Services department. We share our lovely Brutalist building with the English Faculty Library, and I’m getting rather attached to the soft greys and whites of the peaceful Law Library reading room!

The Bodleian Law Library Main Reading Room before readers arrive
The BLL Main Reading Room

The BLL holds a varied mass of legal material, from law reports and legal journals over monographs on Roman, International and European Union law to books on Criminology and Legal Philosophy/Jurisprudence. We’re also home to the Bodleian’s Official Papers collection, comprising Bills and Parliamentary debate records, Royal Commission reports, UN material, and much more.

All this is quite a new world for me (and much more varied than I had imagined – Law really does engage with all aspects of life, as they say). During the earlier half of this year, I was working in the collection logistics department of Cambridge University Library (book moving, fetching, and all that), and, before that, finishing a PhD in English Literature at Cambridge (delving into the socialist poets and novelists of the Victorian and Edwardian period, and relations between literary form and the structures of political thinking). It’s great to explore a new field of information and how it’s curated – I’m learning about law reports with their different levels of authority, the differences between Bills, Acts and Statutory Instruments, the intricate citation styles of EU treaties, and all kinds of (to me, at least) formerly somewhat mysterious publications. Even more than that, though, it’s a delight to get to know all the various tasks that come with librarianship – by actually doing them, through enquiry desk shifts, shelving, editing online reading lists, getting to grips with Alma (together with everyone in the Bodleian – which is quite encouraging), loose-leaf filing (surprisingly relaxing), book moving, giving introductory tours, scanning material, checking catalogue records, etc.

Several rows of bookcases filled with legal monographs and law reports
A view along our cases, from private law to UK law reports and legal journals

My personal highlight, so far, is working with the library’s people, both my new colleagues, who have already been more than generous with their time and help, and the readers – something I very much craved after 4 years of solitary research. The satisfaction that comes with actually being able to help a reader is wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed learning about the links between librarianship and teaching, too. I don’t doubt this year will bring much more surprises: I’m looking forward to delving a bit deeper into cataloguing, looking into the way the other Bodleian libraries (and the CSF) do their library thing, and maybe even getting creative with my trainee project!

Some colleagues at the Cam UL may have jokingly referred to my Oxford move as a minor act of treason, but I’m very glad I committed it (and grateful to the spirit of Bodley for having me)!

A Day in the Life at the Bodleian Law Library

08.00 Cycle to Work

I cycle to work and catch the glorious sunrise being reflected on the River Thames as I pedal over Folly Bridge and then past Christ Church and the beautifully illuminated Radcliffe Camera.

 

08.30 Opening

I start my day by checking each floor for any shelving. I also check the carrels on the third floor for any lost property, unplugged computers, or to move any chairs that have mysteriously meandered and found their way into other carrels overnight.

The Radcliffe Camera being illuminated a beautiful golden colour by the rising sun.
The Radcliffe Camera
View of the River Thames passing underneath Folly Bridge in Oxford
The view from Folly Bridge

Once the shelving is completed, I head back down to the second floor for my first shift at the Enquiry Desk with a lonely phone charger that I found in one of the carrels. After updating the missing property book (hoping that the charger will be reunited with its owner later on), logging in to my computer and saying good morning to colleagues on Teams, I collect the keys to open the library and let in the eager readers waiting outside.

 

9.00 Enquiry Desk

Top of my list today is to finish making the ‘New Publications by Oxford Authors’ display which lives on the second floor of the library and showcases a list of books written or edited by law faculty members. I make sure that the document is neatly presented with photos of the new book, the author, sometimes a QR code for books that are only accessible online, and a little biography of the author. I hope to print and laminate these pages later on today so that I might put the display up before I go home for the Christmas break.

For the rest of my time at the Enquiry Desk I work through a couple of boxes I picked up from Official Papers on the ground floor, barcoding items that do not have barcodes. I also work on some reading lists – reviewing online reading lists to see if links to e-books are working, and to see if the Bodleian Law Library has the latest edition books. Every now and then I am also approached by a reader who would like to see a book from the Reserve Collection (which is kept behind the desk) or needs directions to find the PCAS (printing, photocopying and scanning) machines, or a specific book in the library, or the water fountains in the building or the bathroom.

 

11.00 Break

Usually, I sit with my book in the staff room and have a snack. Today, however, I hurriedly make my way out of the library and speed-walk to Blackwell’s where I pick up a signed copy of the much talked about Babel by R.F Kuang.

 

11.20 Books, journals and more books!

Back at the library (with my new prized possession – the signed Babel!), I check the shelves in the WIP (work-in-progress) room that are my responsibility. These are the shelves that have donated or purchased books waiting to be processed, or books awaiting labelling. Processing involves updating our book statistics spreadsheet (marking down how many purchased, donated or legal deposit books we have received), edge-stamping the books, stamping the donated and purchased books with the appropriate stamps, tattling, labelling the books that are in need of labels, and then returning the books to the cataloguing shelves or the shelves for books waiting for their labels to be checked.

I also need to check the shelf in the WIP room where the journals for the ‘New Journals Display’ sit. I collect the journals and go through each one to find or create corresponding QR codes, and then laminate them. Using QR codes means that readers can access journals online with greater ease. This is one of my weekly tasks, and I will be putting up the display tomorrow.

The last shelves I need to check are the ones on my trolley. A collection of books have recently been donated to the Law Library. I process, download bibliographic records and create gift orders for these books in preparation to pass them on to a colleague so that they can be properly catalogued and then returned to me for labelling at some later date.

An imaged of the Bookeye Scanner
The Bookeye Scanner

 

12.40 Scanning

Readers can request scans of certain pages or chapters in books, just as long as their requests fall under copyright law. It’s important to keep on top of the scan requests to make sure that there is not too much of a build-up later on. Armed with information about which books and which pages need to be scanned, I make my way to the small room in the library where the Bookeye Scanner lives. Once the scan is completed, I check for missing pages, fill in our spreadsheet of completed scans, and then send the scan to the appropriate reader.

 

1.30 Lunch

Lunchtime! Usually, I would try to sit outside but since it’s drizzling I decide to sit in the warm indoors and continue reading my newest bibliomystery.

 

2.30 VBD Books

Every week on a Thursday, the VBD (Virtual Book Display) books arrive at the Law Library – usually at 2.15pm on the dot! These are a selection of law-relevant legal deposit books that are chosen by the Information Resources Librarian. Once the books have been unpacked and brought back up to Information Resources, a number of spreadsheets need to be updated, and then the VBD books need to be processed. The size of the VBD book deliveries varies – sometimes there can be as few as five books and other times there can be over seventy!

A large white and red trolley with its three shelves filled by VBD books.
VBD books

 

3.40 Break

I take a later break today because I find this keeps my energy up for the 5-7 evening shift.

 

4.00 Printing, Laminating and Book Processing

I print off and laminate the ‘New Publications by Oxford Authors’. I also fit in a bit of end-of-day book processing since there are some books on my desk that I need to expedite. This just means that the books need to be quickly processed (counted, stamped, tattled and labelled) usually for a scan, a reader, or so that the books can be shelved in the Reserve Collection.

 

4.45 Enquiry Desk Shift and MOYS

For avid readers of the blog, you might already be aware that the Law Library is undergoing a very large re-classification project. Essentially, we are re-classifying books from an old in-house classification system to MOYS – a classification system specifically designed to organise legal materials. With my sheet of 32 titles in hand, I head upstairs to the Jurisprudence section of the library and swap a shelf and a half worth of books with a small piece of paper telling readers where the books have disappeared off to.

I have an evening shift from 5-7 on Thursdays so, with my trolley, I head to the Enquiry Desk and work through the books I have temporarily taken from the shelves. I end my evening duty shift by ringing the library bell one final time to warn any straggling readers that the library is closing.

 

7.00 Home

I head home – looking forward to finishing the last episode of the new season of His Dark Materials.

Léa Watson, Bodleian Law Library

Hello! My name is Léa, and I am one of the two trainees at the Bodleian Law Library this year. The Bodleian Law Library is a reference-only library located in the St. Cross Building in Oxford. As well as working at the Law Library, I also spend one day a week at the Sainsbury Library at the Saïd Business School (one of the first buildings you will see when coming out of the train station).

Seating area on the First Floor in the Bodleian Law Library
Seating area on the First Floor in the Bodleian Law Library

Before moving to Oxford I very recently graduated from UCL where I completed a BSc in Psychology with Education – a subject I very much enjoyed! During my studies I worked as a gallery assistant, research and nursery assistant, and I volunteered at a small LGBT+ library in London. It was these experiences (working in educational environments, with datafiles, books and limited-edition art prints, as well as supporting customers) that led me to apply for this traineeship. I was delighted to be offered the position, and to now be here in Oxford!

Bodleian Law Library's 'Just in Corner' for new books and journal displays
Bodleian Law Library’s ‘Just in Corner’ for new books and journal displays

While the other Bodleian Law Library trainee is based in Academic Services, I am based in Information Resources. Throughout the day I help re-shelve books, handle scan and delivery requests, and do some book moving to create more shelf-space. But, for the most part, much of my time has been spent in my office with books – receiving legal deposit items, stamping, tattling, labelling and red-dotting books, updating spreadsheets, and working on book displays. With students now beginning to arrive, I am also anticipating a great many questions at the Enquiry Desk, which means I must continue to brush up on my knowledge of legal citations and the Bodleian Law Library’s layout!

So far, it has been a really interesting and exciting few weeks in Oxford. Everyone has been incredibly kind and welcoming, and I have really enjoyed learning more about librarianship and what goes on behind the scenes in academic libraries. I am very much looking forward to making the most of my time here, working in two libraries, attending training sessions with fellow graduate trainees, getting involved in the MOYS reclassification project at the Bodleian Law Library, and exploring Oxford; its colleges, gardens, libraries and museums!

LRMSP – a trainee’s perspective

One of the rooms used for mooting; it is furnished with facing rows of wooden seating, with a lecturer's desk at the far end of the room.
‘The Cube,’ former economics library and present-day mock courtroom.

One of the more unusual aspects of my role in the Law Library’s Academic Services team this year has been my involvement in the Legal Research and Mooting Skills Programme, or LRMSP. Although a lot of libraries offer some sort of research skills classes, especially at the beginning of the year, the LRMSP is a very different beast: a compulsory course for first year law undergraduates, involving assignments and a pass/fail practical exam. If students don’t pass the course at some point in their degree, they will not graduate with a qualifying law degree. The course is entirely run by Kate and Nicola, the Legal Research librarians – I’m based in their office, so I was inevitably going to hear a lot about it over the course of my traineeship. At the beginning of the year I’d only heard of moots in the medieval sense (which at least is still law-related; they were a form of early law-keeping through community debate) – but I was keen to find out more about the programme and what I could do to help out.

Read more LRMSP – a trainee’s perspective

Interview with a former trainee (part 5)

For the fifth instalment of our ‘interview with a former trainee’ series, we hear from Ross Jones (History Faculty Library, 2018/19), Ivona Coghlan (Bodleian Law Library, 2017/18) and George White (Old Bodleian Library, 2017/18).

 

What did you most enjoy about this experience?

A view of the Rad Cam, with the St Mary Church spire in the background
The Radcliffe Camera, home to the History Faculty Library, where Ross was a trainee in 2018/19

Ross:

It gave an unrivalled grounding in library work in Oxford.

Ivona:

You got to see a wide variety of libraries and get a real feel for different areas of library work. Personally, I also really enjoyed getting to meet the other trainees and formed long lasting friendships.

George:

The highlight was definitely meeting my fellow trainees. I made some friends for life. So much so, that I live with one of them- I teamed up with my bestie to get on the property ladder. I think the neighbours were pleased to hear that two librarians would be moving in! Recently we hosted a Trainee mini-reunion, and had 3 other trainees to stay for the May Bank Holiday weekend, which was so lovely!

 

Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?

Ross:

The training sessions I found most interesting were the tours of other libraries. The sessions I found most useful were the talks by various professionals, which covered both theory and hands on experience (like sessions about Aleph – the Library Management System – and tools for presenting).

Ivona:

The session where former trainees came in and discussed a selection of various library courses was probably the most useful. I also found seeing the archives really interesting as it was an area I knew little about.

George:

The Bodleian Libraries is such a large organisation, consisting of many different libraries and departments who are all responsible for different things. Visiting all the libraries, and hearing from colleagues about their roles, really helped me make sense of the Bodleian Libraries as a whole. All the sessions were useful, but a couple of sessions stand out as particularly interesting: visiting the Conservation Studios at the Weston Library (painstaking work, I wouldn’t have the patience) and the University Archives (they’d laid on some really fascinating pieces).

 

Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?

Some shelves with a long run of red bound journals
Some shelves within the Bodleian Law Library, where Ivona was a trainee in 2017/18

Ross:

I am writing up my dissertation this year for Sheffield. The traineeship guided me in taking the MA and choosing Sheffield.

Ivona:

I completed my PGDip in 2020. The traineeship helped me to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the different courses. It also meant I knew people from the traineeship doing the course at the same time. We did different courses but it was good to know people in the same boat. As I had no previous library experience, the traineeship helped me feel confident about the decision to pursue librarianship. This was particularly important to me due to the cost of the course.

George:

I had a place at Sheffield to study for a Masters in Librarianship for the 2017/18 academic year. However, when I got on the trainee scheme, I deferred my place. The traineeship definitely affected my thoughts on this, as it was during the traineeship that I heard about the possibility of studying for library school, via distance learning. This really appealed to me- the thought of going back to being a full-time student, with no income, was a bit scary. After talking with colleagues, I found I knew a fair few people in Oxford who’d done it- worked and studied at the same time. They warned me that it was a lot of work, so I knew what I was getting into. I applied for internal Library Assistant jobs that came up over the trainee year and got a permanent position at the History Faculty Library. Once I got this, I changed my course with Sheffield to be the distance learning course. As my friends had warned me, it was hard work! I decided to do a postgraduate diploma, rather than a Masters (essentially a Masters, minus the dissertation).

 

In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?

Ross:

Getting a sense of the bigger picture at the Bodleian. It is all too easy to think locally, but through training sessions, talks and tours, the traineeship shows you what is happening in lots of different places at once. This helps to contextualise your position in the wider organisation.

Ivona:

It improved my ability to network. It encourages you to ask questions and learn from others. It also gave me confidence to try new things even if I didn’t have prior experience.

George:

Not being afraid to ask questions. I think sometimes we worry about asking for help, because we don’t want to look stupid! However, it’s always best to ask about something if you’re not certain. Especially in libraries, where staff are always happy to help (I don’t think I’ve ever come across a mean librarian- we are so very misrepresented in films and TV!) When you first start any job, it can be a bit overwhelming- there’s a lot of information to take in at once. It’s impossible to remember everything. While you’re settling in, ask questions- even if it’s just ‘do you like working here?’ It’s a good way to get to know your colleagues and learn at the same time.

 

What are you doing now?

the wooden doors of the Great Gate with the coats of arms of the different colleges open to view the statues of the Earl of Pembroke.
The Great Gate of the Old Bodleian Library, where George was a trainee in 2017/18.

Ross:

I am a Senior Library Assistant at the Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library (PTFL) and English Faculty Library (EFL), as well as a Reader Services Supervisor at the Old Bodleian Library.

Ivona:

I am currently on secondment as a Senior Library Assistant with The Biomedical Library at Queen’s University Belfast.

George:

As of December 2021, I’m a Senior Library Assistant at the Cairns Library, in the John Radcliffe Hospital. My full title is Senior Library Assistant: Collections Management & Enquiry Support (a bit of a mouthful. And, yes, I did have to check my email signature to make sure I got it spot on!) which means I spend half my time on collections (I’m learning to catalogue and classify, which I know will be very useful skills to have throughout my career in libraries) and the other half on enquiries (answering emails from healthcare students and professionals, based in the hospitals). It’s a nice mix of tasks and I am enjoying the job so far. It’s quite different to working in the History Faculty Library and there’s lots to learn, which is great.

 

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Ross:

It seemed very difficult to get proper cataloguing/technical services training as a trainee. I hope this changes so that more numerous career paths can be opened up.

George:

I loved my time as a trainee, and hope that all current and future trainees have (and continue to have) a great time and learn lots!

 

For some bonus content, feel free to check out Ross, George and Ivona’s introductory posts to the Bodleian Libraries here:

Ross: https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/oxfordtrainees/ross-jones-history-faculty-library/

George: https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/oxfordtrainees/george-white-and-jennifer-bladen-hovell-at-reader-services/

Ivona: https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/oxfordtrainees/ivona-coghlan-bodleian-law-library/