EFL Reclassification Project

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

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

Short, memorable in-house shelfmarks

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

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

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

Longer, but more informative, LCC shelfmarks

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

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

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

The St Cross Building Project at the EFL – Mary Atkinson

The St Cross Building, home of the Faculties of English and Law, the English Faculty Library and the Bodleian Law Library, is currently undergoing major building works. Due to the nature of the work on the EFL including constructing a new accessible entrance for the library, we have had to close for the summer vacation. As my traineeship comes to a close I thought I would write a post reflecting on the building project and closure as it has made for a really interesting and at times challenging year!

Preparations for the building project began with our collections. As the English Faculty needed space for the construction of a new reception area on the ground floor, we had to consolidate the contents of our three stacks into just one. This huge task started back in 2013, when my colleagues began sending material from one of our stacks to be stored at the BSF to free up space. Last year, my predecessor Sarah measured the stack space taken up by each journal in Stack 1 (home of our older periodicals) and our Librarian and Senior Library Assistant for Collections weeded out our least-used journals in consultation with the Faculty. Then, over Hilary and Trinity terms this year we split the rest of the close access periodicals between our remaining stack and the shelves in one of the Faculty’s seminar rooms. Luckily we also had the assistance of the Bodleian Libraries team of book movers, who shifted our rare books into the refurbished stack. This year also involved seemingly endless building project meetings for our Librarian and Deputy Librarian, and planning how to help our students during the closed period.

Library Issue Desk
Farewell issue desk!


The end of Trinity Term sped past with exam deadlines and students checking books out for the summer, and before we knew it there was only a week left for our final preparations. The EFL staff offices were consumed by a whirlwind of dust and long-forgotten stationery as we packed everything up to be stored upstairs in the Gallery: about 50 crates of office equipment, files and miscellaneous stuff. Some essentials we set aside to transfer to our temporary office, including my mascots: Thomas the Tank Engine and a hippo pencil sharpener with a little Christmas tree hat. Meanwhile, our issue desk, card catalogue and display shelves and cases were dismantled and removed. We moved all of our office furniture upstairs as well, although we saved the kettle for last. Finally, exhausted but on schedule, we handed over control of the EFL to the builders and went to explore our summer hideout.

Getting ready to move out
Getting ready to move out
Our ghostly library
Our ghostly library
The new library entrance, plus temporary wall protecting the books!
The new library entrance, plus temporary wall protecting the books!

So my year as a trainee at the English Faculty Library is ending in an unusual fashion: holed up with my four colleagues in a little office in the Upper Reading Room of the Old Bodleian Library. We’re very grateful to the staff who have very kindly hosted us for the summer, and also to the Social Sciences Library for accepting book returns for us! Although we miss our kettle, our office is located a short wander to the cakes of the Headley Tearoom, and comes complete with a view of the Quad,  18th Century graffiti on the wood panelled walls, and a weary-looking portrait of author and politician Sir Henry Wotton.

Sir Henry judging our level of productivity
Sir Henry judging our level of productivity

Even without students and books around we still have work to do! This summer is a good chance to catch up on bits of admin before the new academic year begins. My colleagues are working on tasks such as updating the Bodleian’s collections of American Literature, and planning inductions and training sessions. We are also fielding email, telephone and Live Help enquiries from students and researchers. My daily tasks are as varied as ever; last week the Deputy Librarian and I conducted tours of the Radcliffe Camera for this year’s English UNIQ summer school students. Also on my current to-do list is to make a virtual display on a 17th century playhouse, create a series of lists on Library Thing to promote our collections, and to update the EFL trainee manual for my successor. My year at the EFL has been so enjoyable, and I feel it’s been a really valuable experience to be part of a library undergoing such a major change. I will definitely be returning for a visit to see the final outcome of the building project!


Summaries of Showcase Talks

If anyone’s wondering about the sort of work the trainees get up to during their year in Oxford, below are the summaries of the talks we gave at the Showcase. Slides from the presentations can be found on Slideshare. Due to technical issues, Clare Hunter’s presentation has been uploaded as a separate file.

Read more Summaries of Showcase Talks