Madeleine Ahern – Taylor Institution Library

Hi everybody I’m Madeleine, one of two trainees based this year primarily at the Taylor Institution Library with shifts at the Sackler and Oriental Institute as well. I just graduated this spring with my BA Honours degree in History and Art History from Queen’s University in Canada, and after working in archives and museums previously I am now keen to pursue a career in academic librarianship.

A book from our special collections

 

Being a trainee at the Taylorian has been wonderful so far in part because of the extensive collections it encompasses. The Western and Eastern European languages, Linguistics, Film Studies, and Women’s Studies collections make for not only a fascinating range of library resources here but also some neat research going on at any minute. Most people gravitate towards our beautiful reading room adjacent to the main research collection stacks it seems!

 

The main reading room

 

I am primarily based at the issue desk so far, fielding reader inquiries, doing some book processing, shelving, and most recently preparing for inductions week. A favourite moment of my traineeship so far was when I got to work with Dalí, Matisse, and Picasso prints from the Strachan Artist Book collection all in one afternoon. I am really looking forward to all that is to come this year, in part because of an exciting new Navigation and Wayfinding Project that I am undertaking with my fellow trainee Chloe and a team of librarians across the Taylorian and Sackler to improve reader experience.

Rhiannon Perrin – Bodleian Law Library

Hi my name is Rhiannon (Rhiannon P as we have two Rhiannon’s on this year’s trainee scheme – although luckily not in the same library!) and I will be spending the year working in the Bodleian Law Library. The Bodleian Law Library is based in the St. Cross building on Manor Road, the English Faculty Library is also in this building and next door to us is the Social Science Library, with the old Bodleian Library less than a ten minute walk away.  So far in the past two weeks I have spent my time meeting and talking to all the different staff within the Law Library and learning about their areas of expertise. This year there are two trainees at the Law Library, Laura who is based in Information Resources, and myself in Academic Services. Being based in AS means that alongside my usual tasks like shelving and staffing the enquiry desk I am also involved in scanning resources to go online both on our internal page LawBod4Students and for ORLO reading lists.

Gladstone’s Library

 

Before coming to Oxford I was working in a small residential library in North Wales called Gladstone’s Library. In many ways this was great preparation for coming to the Bodleian as every day I spent time on the enquiry desk, helping readers, cataloguing and circulating books and journals, as well as working on specific projects being undertaken at Gladstone’s Library. However, Gladstone’s Library only had 150,000 volumes whereas the Bodleian Law Library has over 550,000 so far more material for me to familiarise myself with over the next year! Before that I had just completed my LLM in International Law at the University of Sussex where I got to visit The Hague and see incredible places like the Peace Palace which is home to numerous bodies of International Law including the International Court of Justice, but most importantly (to me anyway) the Peace Palace Library, an amazing building that holds over a million volumes on International Law. Finally, before that I was doing my BA in History where I spent part of my second year working in an archive, and I enjoyed it so much I then spent the whole of my third year working in the university library.

A few of us trainees outside Christ Church College

 

I am really looking forward to spending a year in Oxford, so far it seems like a fantastic city with lots of things to do and places to visit. I am excited for term to begin and to start seeing the Law Library in full flow, with postgraduate inductions beginning in less than two weeks and undergraduates the week after that. It has been really nice meeting my fellow trainees, we’ve already had a few training sessions together and the drinks reception in the Divinity School was a great way to be welcomed to the Bodleian.

Evie Brown, Bodleian Reader Services

Hello!

I’m Evie and I am one of the two new graduate trainees at the Bodleian reader services aka the Old Bod. So yes I get to work in the building Harry Potter was filmed in – pretty cool!

The Duke Humfrey's Library in Oxford

Duke Humphrey’s Reading Room – also the Hogwarts Library

I am a very recent graduate, having only finished my BA Anthropology degree in June of this year. Anthropology at the University of Bristol was an amazing experience, such an interesting subject and I cannot wait to make a visit to the Tylor (anthropology) library in Oxford.

During the last year of my degree and over the summer I worked in my local public library, which is the reason I decided to go for the traineeship here at Oxford. My experience at the public library has already been vastly different to the Bodleian – I have not had to sing nursery rhymes to babies yet or try to explain to an elderly person how to turn a computer on… I did love my experience there though, and I think it has set me in good stead for what may be to come in this new role.

So, I have been here at the Bod for two weeks now, and it is already flying by. I am finally starting to feel like I know what is going on and what I should be doing at any given moment of the day. Working in such a historic building is amazing (despite the stairs) and the Duke Humphreys reading room is definitely my favourite! I also have met all the other trainees several times thanks to several training courses we have had, and the Divinity Drinks reception we were invited to this week. Everyone is super kind and interesting – I think we are in for a fun year ahead of us!

I am excited for the undergrads to arrive in a couple of weeks, I think the phrase I have heard the most over the last couple of weeks is ‘just you wait till term starts’ every time I comment on the quietness or say something is easy! Its going to be an amazing experience, working in Oxford, and I still can’t quite believe I am here!

So that is my little hello post, I look forward to everyone else’s and to keep the blog up to date with my year 🙂

Behind the Scenes: Shadowing and Hosting between a Bodleian Library and a College Library

This year, many Graduate Library Trainees expressed an interest in shadowing a fellow trainee from another Oxford library. Colleagues from Bodleian Staff Development worked to facilitate this and fortunately Leanne and I were able to spend an afternoon at one another’s workplace. Leanne is the Graduate Library Trainee at Christ Church (ChCh), one of Oxford University’s largest colleges, while I’m the trainee at the Radcliffe Camera, home to the Bodleian’s History Faculty Library (HFL).

Christ Church’s Main Library Building
View of the Radcliffe Camera from the University Church

The nature of each traineeship can vary considerably depending on the remit of the library, its size and the nature of its collections. These differences are magnified when the logistical and operational nuances distinct to each library are accounted for. Shadowing at another library provides an opportunity to experience these differences in context, to consider some of the factors impacting other library services and to critically reflect on the practices of the libraries we normally work in.

After our afternoons of shadowing were over, we decided to write a joint blog post to recount our experiences, using a Q and A as the basis for encapsulating our opinions. Suffice to say we had fun!

Christ Church Library and Bodleian Library Stamps next to each other in the same book.

Why did you want to shadow at the library you chose?

Ross Jones, History Faculty LibraryHaving spent the majority of my time working and studying in the Bodleian Libraries, I welcomed the opportunity to experience the day to day goings-on of a college library; I wanted to learn about the parameters a college library was expected to operate within and how this might affect the services they are able to provide. Given the familial nature of a college environment, I was also eager to discover what kind of learning cultures a more insular and exclusive library service helps to inspire.

Leanne Grainger, Christ Church Library: As a trainee in a college library I was keen to shadow a trainee within the Bodleian Libraries to find out how the experience differs in a larger library team as well as within the larger Bodleian Libraries’ structure.

What were your first impressions of the library?

Ross says: Friendly and ambitious. Oxford is saturated with historic buildings and architecture of seemingly every kind. This has led me, albeit guiltily, to become a tad indifferent to the awesome facades boasted by the libraries of many of the older Oxford colleges. To me, the most impressive feature of a library is the service it provides and I was struck first and foremost by the welcoming personalities of Christ Church’s library staff and the grand designs they had for improving their service.

Leanne says: Grand. Iconic. Busy – especially considering it was vacation! The History Faculty Library  is currently situated in the Radcliffe Camera, a well-known landmark in Oxford, which is beautiful both inside and out. Even though I was shadowing Ross during the vacation it seemed pretty busy and I imagine it is an extremely popular study space within Oxford.

The Lower Camera Reading Room at the HFL.

What did you find to be different in comparison to your own library?

Ross says: The book-request service. Having secured a generous budget for purchasing, one of Christ Church College Library’s many strengths is its ability to provide students a significant stake in its Collection Development Policy by allowing them, in a sense, to build a reader-curated collection. If a student needs it and the library doesn’t have it, you can be sure a copy will be bought (within reason of course!). I was amazed to learn that the record time for fulfilling a request was just a matter of hours, with staff going above and beyond to deliver the requested item to the reader at their desk.

Leanne says: That anyone with a reader’s card can use the library!  It has a diverse range of readers to cater for, and even has a section of the library that is a laptop free zone for readers to use to get away from the noise of keyboard tapping! As a college, the library is predominantly only for our own students and has no where near as many readers. With a larger team at the HFL, Ross covers the front desk on a rota, usually about 3 hours a day, which is quite a lot less than the half day if not the whole day I usually work at the front desk!  A bigger team also seemed to mean that everybody has particular roles and responsibilities, whereas I find I get to do a bit of everything. The HFL also seemed to not be as involved in acquisitions and cataloguing as at ChCh, as these are done centrally within Bodleian Libraries.

What did you find to be the same in comparison to your own library?

Ross says: The day to day challenges of working in an 18th century building. Where spiral staircases and galleries abound there will invariably be a multitude of issues with running a modern library service. Facilitating access for mobility-impaired readers, shelving in precarious positions and struggling with antique furniture and fixtures were all too familiar aspects of library work at Christ Church.

The spiral staircase in the East Library at Christ Church

Leanne says: I feel like I can only think of more differences! However, it was fascinating when similarities popped up. Redirecting tourists at the front desk, rather packed lost property shelves and a Library of Congress classification system were all very familiar! A lot of the routine tasks such as the processing of books felt similar too. The book covering in particular, with book sleeves for dust covers and lamination of paperbacks (but I’d highly recommend commando covers!).

What aspects of shadowing did you enjoy?

Ross says: The variety of environments. With Christ Church boasting an upper and lower library, a separate 24-hour Law library, the Allestree Library, a variety of rare book rooms and an archive room hidden away at the top of a tower, it’s a wonder Leanne and the rest of the team manage to keep on top of it all! With everything as spaced out as it is, I imagine resources are stretched pretty thin at times, but having a backstage pass to it all for the day made for a truly enchanting experience.

Christ Church’s Upper Library as viewed from the Gallery

Leanne says: I really enjoyed exploring the space and learning about the HFL being a library within a library – the HFL doesn’t own the space it’s in, the Bodleian does! This has drawbacks in terms of having space to expand into, which is a huge issue even for libraries with their own space. There is overlapping of the HFL collections and the Bodleian Library collections in the Gladstone Link, which is underneath the Radcliffe Camera and between the two libraries, which was interesting to get my head around! I enjoyed getting to be a part of the daily delivery of books from the off-site store at Swindon, there are some interesting things that get delivered. I also like that I was able to process a new book that now has its shelfmark written inside in my handwriting.

Overlap of collections in the Upper Camera (HFL books on the left and Bodleian books on the right) .

What benefits do you feel are unique to the trainee role of the library you visited?

Ross says: As Leanne says, working at a college library tends to involve a little bit of everything. At the History Faculty Library, where roles are more compartmentalised, my main focus is Reader Services and this means chances to work with bibliographic records are few and far between. At Christ Church, Leanne often creates and edits holdings records, which is a useful transferable skill to have when it comes to pursuing a career in libraries!

Leanne says: The trainee project that Ross has taken on this year I feel highlights a unique aspect to the HFL – that it is a subject specific library in History. Ross is looking into improving the provision and accessibility of the History set texts, which I think is a useful and transferable experience. For example, Ross has carried out a survey of the students who need to use these texts to find out more about how and if they use them. I especially feel that the most unique feature of being a trainee at the HFL is it being a library within a library. Learning to navigate the different collections of a shared library space and getting to observe and learn how those collections an d that space is managed I think will be uniquely valuable experience.

What ideas or procedures might you think about implementing in your own library after visiting?

Ross says: Minor cosmetic changes to improve the readability of shelf marks. The library staff at Christ Church have used an ongoing reclassification project as an opportunity to trial some simple and effective ideas to improve the browsing experiences of readers. In retro converting the classification sequences in the lower library to Library of Congress, staff at Christ Church have decided to print out shelf mark labels on yellow stickers rather than white ones to aid those readers with dyslexia or Irlen syndrome. They also print their labels so that the first line of each shelf mark will appear at the same height on each book spine, regardless of how many cutter numbers a shelf mark might have. This makes it easier to follow the sequence along the shelf. Every little helps!

A shelf of books with their new Library of Congress shelfmark labels at ChCh.

Leanne says: At Christ Church Library we are already looking into using the bindery where Ross sends worn books to be rebound. I talked to my Librarians about the system that Ross uses to regularly send books that are in need of TLC to the bindery and we’re now looking to adopt a similar strategy to be more efficient with our rebinding budget. Talking to Ross about his trainee project has also inspired and motivated me to look into improving the promotion and visibility of collections that are particularly important to students, including the accessibility equipment we provide.

A shelf of newly rebound books at the HFL, fresh from the bindery.

Can you describe the library you visited in one word?

Ross says: Wonderful

Leanne says: Matryoshka

The History Faculty Library’s Collections

The first weeks of February occupy the middle of Oxford University’s Hilary Term. They represent a busy time for students; the History Faculty Library’s self-collect shelves are heaving with off-site stack requests and there is rarely an empty seat in sight. Roughly speaking, this period also marks the midway point of the Bodleian Libraries Graduate Traineeship and now I feel more familiar with the library’s collections, I thought I’d use this space to share a few details about them.

Not just books: The HFL houses a variety of other items including maps and DVDs.

There are a little over 80,000 volumes at the HFL, including 1100 books in the local history section and 3,500 ‘oversize’ books on art, architecture and archaeology. Yet, it’s the main lending sequence that accounts for the bulk of this figure. Spanning three floors, the majority of the books in this collection can be borrowed by anyone with a blue reader’s card. Theoretically, this means that every current member of the University has the opportunity to take home a sample of what the History Faculty Library has to offer.

Those with a blue card like this one can borrow a variety of items from the HFL.

Though it parted ways with 473 of its rare antiquarian books when it moved from the Old Indian Institute in 2012, the library still has approximately 1,000 pre-nineteenth-century volumes in its care. A portion of these are known as ‘set texts’, which are prescribed readings for undergraduates studying Joint or Single Honours History Degrees. In certain cases, the HFL has the only available copy these readings in Oxford, making the Set Text Collection in the Upper Camera a particularly important and unique resource.

A sample of the blue-labelled books in the Set Text Collection.

The library further provides for the needs of students by responding to trends currently shaping the historical disciplines. Between March and June 2018, the library purchased just over 1100 books in the wake of a recent syllabus reform by the University’s History Faculty, whilst steps have also been taken to secure additional funding for pre-emptive purchasing in growth areas, such as global medieval history. The time spent processing these new acquisitions has been fascinating. All too often an intriguing title or profound idea has diverted my attention from the timely application of stamps and Tattle Tape. It’s a similiar story organising the New Books Display, though I think this is somewhat understandable given the premise of a few volumes in particular…

The weird and wonderful! Captivating titles at the HFL include: The Bedroom, An Intimate History; Shoplifting In Eighteenth Century England; Beard Fetish In Early Modern England; and The Known Citizen, A History Of Privacy In Modern America.

Joking aside, it has been exciting to witness an influx of research on previously neglected pasts. It seems historians are now asking more questions, about more things, than ever before. Welcoming the fruits of their labour to the HFL with a shelf mark, bookplate and dust-jacket cover has  certainly been a therapeutic way to spend a quiet afternoon!

Adding to the breadth of the library’s collections, many of these new arrivals are inter-disciplinary in nature, made worthy of a position on the open shelves by virtue of their versatility. However, some more specialist works are sent directly to the off-site storage facility in Swindon, a decision predicated on a forecast of infrequent use. Here, they are kept safe in climate-controlled conditions under the watchful eye of the Head of the Bodleian Storage Facility, or BSF. Being so far removed from Oxford doesn’t necessarily mean these books won’t see a day in a reading room though. Despite the 80(ish) mile round trip, off-site items are never more than a few clicks away from being sent to a variety of Bodleian Libraries via SOLO.

The Radcliffe Camera’s large wooden sorting table for incoming and outgoing BSF deliveries.

Though comparably modest in size, the HFL certainly punches above its weight when it comes to provision. This is, in no small part, due to a concise and effective collection development policy which sees students and academics well catered for. Yet, as one of the Bodleian Libraries, the HFL is also aided by the logistical and technical support derived from the legal-deposit library’s infrastructure. The Bodleian’s network of reader terminals, dotted throughout the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link, provide access to hundreds of thousands of e-resources, including eLegal-Deposit items. Additionally, the Radcliffe Camera’s status as a collection point for off-site stack requests puts the Bodleian’s vast reserves of print material at the fingertips of any HFL visitor. Though such a symbiotic arrangement might seem challenging, in this instance, it has proven to be a winning combination.

Ross Jones, History Faculty Library and Radcliffe Camera

 

Katie Day, Taylor Institution Library


Me in the Enquiries Room

Hi everyone! I’m Katie, and I’m the new Graduate Library Trainee based at the Taylorian this year. I’ve only recently finished my Bachelor’s at the University of Chicago, where I’d been living for five years. I had some experience with the library work at UChicago, but confined to the Google Books Project rather than direct reader interactions, so my experience of work in the day-to-day ebb and flow of a library was pretty limited.

The Taylor Institution Library, or the Taylorian, as it’s also known, is on St. Giles, at kitty-corner with the Ashmolean, and the Sackler Library the next road over. It was established in 1845, when architect Sir Robert Taylor left a bequest for a centre for the study of modern European languages, which the university then placed in the east wing of the building built to house both the Taylor and the Randolph Galleries (which later became the Ashmolean); the library was officially opened in 1849.


Exterior of the Taylor Library in the early years

In 1938 there was an extension made along St. Giles’ in order to accommodate the increasing collections that had resulted from the official establishment in 1903 of the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, which have been centred around the Taylorian ever since. The latest growth of the library has been in the past five years, with its’ enveloping of the Slavonic and East European collections (previously housed in Wellington Square).

The Main Reading Room from the balcony

Here, amongst over 70,000 books, we now have both the Western and Eastern European languages collections, alongside the Slavonic collections and the collections for Linguistics, Film Studies, and Women’s Studies, all spread between over a dozen different cataloguing systems that have all grown on themselves. My previous library was all Library of Congress (LC), so learning them all has been rather a trial by fire! I’ve yet to get irreparably tangled, but I won’t get cocky just yet.

At the Taylorian, my tasks have been pretty split between the Circulation Desk on the ground floor (come say hello!) and the Enquiries Desk on the first, next to the Main Reading Room. Amongst many other tasks, so far I’ve processed the BSF (Book Storage Facility) deliveries from Swindon, processed incoming periodicals, prepped new DVDs for shelving, designed flyers for the new library tours, and (to my great excitement) gathered materials for an upcoming exhibition in the Voltaire Room on the White Rose group. All this alongside the day-to-day of the library, getting to know my co-workers and fellow trainees, and the group trainee training sessions out at Osney, where Bodleian departments like Staff Development, IT, etcetera, are based. There’s never been one day the same as the next yet, and now term has begun, that looks as though it will only continue. So far I’ve been having a wonderful time; here’s looking forward to a great rest of the year.

Jenna Meek, Bodleian Law Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BLL in 1964: Donat, John, Bodleian Law Library, St Cross Building, University of Oxford, Photoprint, 1964, RIBA Collections
Säynätsalo Hall: Accessed September 2018, https://museot.fi/searchmuseums/?museo_id=9147

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

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

References:

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

Ibid., p.138

University of Oxford, The Faculty of Law, Accessed: September 2018, https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/about-us/about-faculty/st-cross-building

Bryony Davies, English Faculty Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ross Jones, History Faculty Library

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

The Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Tour of the Weston Library, Conservation and Special Collections – Tom Dale

We Oxford Library Trainees are a lucky bunch. We have had many interesting and useful training sessions and tours over the last nine months, but few were as remarkable as our trip to the Weston Library.

We met in Blackwell Hall, the Weston Library’s new public space, and were led up to the Conservation Studio. There we were shown a few of the Bodleian’s treasures and taken through how the team of expert conservators assess, repair and conserve our special collections. Highlights included a 9th Century book of Canon Tables and two 17th Century Chinese hanging scrolls, the Maps of the Heavens and the Earth.

Broad Street, Oxford photographer, Oxford University, Weston library, www.facebook.com/johncairnsphotography, www.johncairns.co.uk
Broad Street, Oxford photographer, Oxford University, Weston library, www.facebook.com/johncairnsphotography, www.johncairns.co.uk

 

It is no exaggeration to say that these were awe-inspiring. The fact that Bodleian Libraries has a world-class team working on priceless objects underscores just how special this library system is. We came away speculating about a career change, but these conservators have decades of training and experience under their belts. To see what they get up to, you can follow them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/bodleianconservation/.

We were then taken to a seminar room for a meeting with Dr Martin Kauffmann, Head of Early and Rare Collections and Tolkien Curator of Medieval Manuscripts. Martin showed us three objects from the Bodleian’s collections to illustrate different ways in which historical collections are valuable. The highlight was a 1217 copy of the Magna Carta, one of three copies from that year held by the Bodleian.

Magna Carta1

The Magna Carta is even more Magna up close

We finished the day with a tour which included going onto the roof of the library, from where we could gaze out over Oxford’s famous spires.

Weston

The Trainees bask in the Oxford sun. I think there was a sun up there somewhere.

Thanks to all who welcomed and shared their work with us. It was a really special afternoon.