Book hospital: repairs at the Social Science Library – Tom Dale

The SSL is a busy library. We have around 370,000 books, hundreds of which circulate every day. The more a book is used the more damaged and dog-eared it becomes: pages fall out, pages tear, spines tear, text blocks come loose, hinges detach, covers fall off…. Students pass on their wisdom to their peers in pencil, pen and highlighter (e.g. “Lol!!!”). Sometimes our books are used to mop up coffee or squash insects. We once found some banana peel gluing two pages together. We’ve seen it all.

Graf2Every single line in this entire book has been underlined.

We have strict rules governing what we repair in-house and what we send to the Conservation team. We do not touch Legal Deposit items or items which are rare, old or hard to replace. Books which are heavily used or on reading lists are usually either sent to the bindery or replaced. But even after sending those items away, we are left with a heavy load of books to repair ourselves. Our repairs are pragmatic, designed to squeeze another few months or years out of a book before it needs to be replaced. It doesn’t have to be beautiful; it just has to work.

In this post I’m going to take you through my repair of one of our books. In an ideal world we would send all of our damaged books to the team of expert conservators I wrote about in my last post, but we have too many books needing attention. I’m quite glad of that, as book repair is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying parts of my job.

book repair

This book is in a bad way. The front hinge has come loose, tearing one of the pages. The repair will involve three steps: repairing the hinge, repairing the tear and strengthening the hinge.

I started by examining the book to check for any other damage and to make sure that its structure was generally sound. There is no point in carrying out a repair if the book won’t be able to return to the shelves afterwards. Satisfied that I could get this book back into usable condition, I attached some linen hinging tape to the text block.  I folded the tape in half and attached it with the hinge facing out, which allows the spine to flex in order to accommodate the opening and closing of the book. I applied a small amount of glue to hold the ends of the tape together before pressing the spine against the tape and smoothing it together from the outside.

I repaired the tear using Hayaku paper, an acid-free tape with a water-activated adhesive. I cut enough to cover the tear and moistened it with a paint brush. When dry, it forms a bridge between the two sides, holding them together.

Finally, I attached linen hinging tape to further strengthen the hinge.

The book is now back out on the shelves. Although it’s not as good as new, it’s good enough to last a while longer. Perhaps next time it gets damaged we’ll have to send it to the great library in the sky, but for now it’ll live to be read another day.

Thanks to Clare Hunter for taking the videos.

A Day in the Life at the SSL

As I have now settled into the Social Science Library, I thought it would be nice to write a ‘Day in the Life’ like previous cohorts have done to give a bit of insight into what being a Trainee can involve!

As there are two of us in the Social Science Library, we share the workload by focusing on different tasks each week. This week I’m concentrating on Technical Services tasks.

9.00 – I arrive at the library and meet with a member of the SOLO User Group. SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online) is the Oxford University catalogue. Another trainee and I were given the opportunity to join the user group, but during the first meeting a lot of things went over my head! It’s interesting to get some background about the group (and understand the acronyms!) and I also get some useful information about distance learning options for library school.

10.00 – Time for my shift on the Issue Desk. As Trainees we are on the desk for several hours each day. You never really know what you’re going to be asked but I have just about got to grips with some of the more common queries which tend to be regarding issuing book, stack requests (more about them later) and problems with printing. Today I also change a printer cartridge and don’t get ink all over myself which I consider a small triumph.

11.00 – Tea break. Today is the Reader Services Librarian’s last day, so everyone gathers for cake (it was delicious!).

Libraries are run on cake

11.25 – Time to start on my Technical Services tasks. The main part of this being book processing. This involves doing some basic work on Aleph like adding shelfmarks. Followed by adding stamps, security tattle tape and labels. The library receives books that are shelf ready, books from legal deposit and books that we have bought online, and each needs a slightly different amount of processing (definitely no stamps in the legal deposit books!).

20150204_121650Physical Book processing – stamps and plates

13.00 – Lunch. Today I’m reading The Humans by Matt Haig which I would thoroughly recommend.

14.00 – More book processing.

14.30 – Back on the Issue Desk. Around this time, we normally receive our afternoon delivery of stack requests from the Bodleian Storage Facility in Swindon. I check them in to our library and add them to our stack request shelf. Luckily there is only one box today but sometimes we can get loads.

15.00 – Every week in term time we have a Reader Services meeting. This is quite useful for knowing about any new procedures or any other issues that have come up on the desk. Today we’re told about how some inter-library loans can now be taken out of the library and the procedure involved.

15.30 – Journal survey time. The SSL is currently surveying all the print journal stock to see if there is anything we can move out to the BSF or remove to make more space. As our current holdings are incorrect, I am surveying what is actually on the shelves and making a note of what volumes of each journal we have and how many metres of shelving it takes up. It is interesting to see how the design of some of the periodicals have changed over the years when we have volumes from several decades. I spot some volumes today from the 1880s that carry right on through until 2013.

16.30 – Another aspect of the Trainee Technical Services tasks is book repairs. We assess books that are in need of repair to see whether they should be replaced, sent to conservation, a commercial bindery or repaired in-house. Today I repair a couple of books that have a page loose and put them under a very high-tech weight (i.e. a brick) to dry.

20150204_121713Book repairs

17.00 – Just enough time for some more book processing. Some of the books I have been labelling need covering, which means an opportunity to channel my inner Blue Peter presenter to wrestle with what is effectively sticky back plastic and hope I don’t get any air bubbles!

17.30 – Time to go! As its the Reader Services librarian’s last day, we are off to the pub for her leaving drinks.

Jamie Stokes, Sainsbury Library

So I’m halfway through week two here at the Sainsbury Library (based in the Saïd Business School) and so far so good. Currently I’m sat at the enquiry desk by myself for the first time, and with only one person using the library just now I think it’s safe to say it’s pretty quiet. So far (touch wood) there have been no enquiries, though I feel it’s only a matter of time…

Other duties of the Graduate Trainee at the Sainsbury Library (according to previous trainee Emily who left a very thorough handover including a list of places to eat and get drunk) include putting together welcome packs for new members of staff in the Business School, processing new books and journals, weeding old journals, sorting out overdue book records, mending books, reclassifying books, making shelfmark posters and sorting out a variety of emails. So far I’ve made three welcome packs and done a little book and journal processing, which was pretty fun. I think I’m looking forward to term starting but at the same time I’m pretty glad it’s a few weeks away yet.

New workplace — the Saïd Business School

I ended up exploring librarianship as a career somewhat unexpectedly after spending five years at Liverpool John Moores University doing an undergraduate and then postgraduate degree in Creative Writing. Plan A had always been to write for a living in whatever manner possible, which, after a brief stint as a freelance writer for a dodgy Hungarian internet start-up, led me to work which definitely did not involve writing, in a pub kitchen desperately trying to make ends meet and hating every second of it. Then I saw an advert for an internship at Gladstone’s Library, which was pretty much an excuse to escape from the kitchen and live in a humongous residential library for what turned out to be six of the best months of my life. This involved some awesome people, a really wide-ranging experience of typical (and non-typical) library work, free attendance at a load of fantastic lectures and events, an awful lot of gin, and two free two-course meals a day! After that experience applying for the post in Oxford seemed the obvious thing to do, so here I am.

Gladstone’s Library — one of the very best places on Earth

The only thing to do now is enjoy the rest of the year, get to know Oxford a bit, and prepare for the next step (whatever exactly that may be…)

Library Trainee Day in the Life – Day 10

Well, better late than never, here is a glimpse of life at St.Hilda’s.

Today the Librarian has taken the 0830 start, so the opening procedures have been undertaken by the time I arrive. In general this involves opening the front door, unlocking any internal doors, closing the Lawyer’s entrance which gives them access outside opening hours, logging-on the OPACs, switching on the printers and photocopier and clearing any mess/items left on desks overnight.

0900 – Check returned books through the library management system. Student invigilators who man the desk after 5pm can accept returns but cannot remove the records from reader accounts.

Separate any books that have been recalled by readers, reserve them and contact them to let them know that they are ready for collection.

0930 – Chat about changes being made to the way we deal with book requests from Graduate students. There is a separate fund for Graduate taught courses and on feedback from the MCR at Library Committee we are attempting to improve and streamline this process.

1000 – Enquire about a book that was returned to us in error. Contact student and set it aside for collection.

Check book repairs that I left to dry overnight. One is satisfactory and ready to find its way home. The other hasn’t quite taken so I try again.

1030 – Student requests: There are a couple of book purchase requests in our recommendation book and e-mail. I check that we don’t already have the books as some students have not checked the catalogue fully before requesting. Check for availability and prices before sending off the request to the subject tutors for approval. Update the spreadsheet where we keep track of what has/hasn’t been approved.

1130 – Arrange the shelving trolleys in shelfmark order, ready for shelving later on.

1200 – Desk duty: My desk is the issue desk so when I am not in the reading rooms I will be issuing/returning books, signing out reserve shelf items, bookstands, giving paper for the printer/photocopier.

Accession some journals: Fill in the index card, add details to accessions spreadsheet, write accession number and shelfmark, stamp with St. Hilda’s logo.

Prepare book to send back to another library.

Receive approval from subject tutor to purchase book. Ring Blackwell’s who don’t have it in stock and as we try to make student requests a priority this book will be ordered from Amazon as it would be quicker than having Blackwell’s order it in from the publisher. Pass on details to the Librarian to order with the credit card.

1300- Lunch: I receive some gentle ribbing about how “orange” my lunch is – roast potatoes, chicken in some unknown sauce, beans and tomato ketchup for luck.

1400-Attempt to check-in a delivery from our suppliers but after much rooting no invoice is to be found. Detective work suggests another box will shortly be arriving.

Shelving journals: Place current subscriptions in their respective Science or Arts/Humanities racks. Shelve the previous issues with the rest of the back issues in the rolling stacks in the basement.

Take this time to give a quick patrol of the library for noise, food and drink, maintenance issues, check the printer cartridge levels and for students leaving unattended items and using up desks. I find a folder with important personal documents, (including a passport!) in a pile of papers next to the recycling bin. Save these and contact the student, who picks them up within 5 minutes. Such is the immediacy of a college library, I will sometimes not even have placed a book on the recall shelf 5 yards away from my chair before the reserver is at the desk to pick it up.

1430 – The subject tutors have all replied and it’s time to order some books. Blackwell’s will send one over the next morning and another will be ordered in and with us early next week. The tutors have asked for extra copies so I order these from our web-based supplier. It takes longer but they come pre-processed.

I create the orders on our library management system and create minimal catalogue records, which will show that these books have been ordered. The Assistant Librarian will make complete catalogue record when they arrive.

1530 – Shelving: As mentioned, no trainee goes without the daily duty. My faithful trolley and I trundle off to put some books to bed.

1615 – Wrapping up: Remove items from the returns trolley so as not to mix them with those to be returned overnight.

Redo some spine labels that have faded or fallen off.

Write this blog post.

1700 – Home time.



Library Trainee Day in the Life – Day 1

It’s a short life being a trainee, only 6 months in to our jobs and already a lot of them are being advertised for the next group of trainees to take over in September.  With this in mind we thought it might be a good idea for the current trainees to blog an average day for where we work.  There is a great deal of diversity for the trainees as each work place comes with different roles and different sets of challenges, from large subject specialist libraries, to college libraries, to the university archive – no day is the same for each of us.  Hopefully the posts over the next two weeks will give you an idea of the kind of work we do, as well as pointing out the similarities and differences in each work place.

08:30 – 9:00 Opening up

As the SSL is quite a big library I don’t have to open up every day but today is my day to be in at 8.30 to make sure we can open the doors at 8.45, and there is already a group of students waiting for us to open when I arrive.  Reader and issue desk computers are switched on, discussion rooms unlocked, printer paper topped up, and holds that have not been collected by users before they expire are reshelved.  At 9am we bring in the returns box which is kept outside the library doors over night and return all the books from there.

09:00 – 9:30 Email queries

There are usually a lot of email queries to answer first thing in the morning so it takes me half an hour to get everything in the inbox answered.  With two trainees in the SSL both doing the same job we manage to keep on top of things quite well even at busy times, so the email account is checked frequently throughout the day as well.  The emails we get range from people telling us why they haven’t been able to return books, to researchers asking about access to databases or how to locate a rare report.  Some of what we get (such as requests about purchasing items or inter library loans) can be forwarded on to the most appropriate person in the library, but if it is something we can answer for them (with a bit of research ourselves) then we always try to.  We also take care of booking out our discussion rooms which are heavily used during term time.  This can take some time to do as we also update the website so people can check themselves when the rooms are available, today there is only one room booking so I can move on to the next task quickly once that is done.

IMG_20130122_11290009:30 – 10:00 Book repair assessments

As a heavily used lending library we do get a lot of books returned that are in various states of needing repair, a lot of times it is simply a badly bound book that has fallen apart just by being opened.  This morning I spend half an hour assessing the books that may need repair as the pile is getting ever larger.  I first make sure the book is showing as “in repair” on the catalogue so that readers know it is out of circulation.  There are then a series of checks such as if the book is on a reading list, if it is heavily in demand, if it can be repaired or needs to be sent for rebinding, how much it would cost to replace.  We seem to have quite a lot of books that cannot be repaired so I prioritise which ones are on reading lists as they will have to be sent to the bindery first.  Later this week we will box up the books to be sent off and arrange for them to be collected.

10:00 – 10:45 Team meeting

Once a week in term time we have a reader services team meeting.  This is a great chance for us to get together and discuss any issues we may need to know about.  It is also a good opportunity for staff to be reminded about things which may come up on the desk.   This is useful because there are a lot of new people on the team so it’s good to hear about things we may not have encountered before.  This week we’re being reminded about the change from vacation rules about storing people’s books behind the desk for them, and about our core text collection.

10:45 – 11:05 Time for a tea break.

11:05 – 11:25 Email queries

I check the email account again and notice a few long queries from readers who had returned books over the weekend but were still on their account.  I have a look for the books which I find and let them know I’ve removed it from their account.  Sometimes we have to email them back to say we can’t find the book and a few days later they let us know they accidentally returned it to another library, which his very easy to do in Oxford given how many libraries there are.

11:25 – 12:00 Book Processing

Now it’s time to do some book processing.  We get a lot of new books in from the Bodleian which we will keep at the SSL so these need shelfmarks putting on and need alarms putting in them, but we also get a lot of books we have purchased which are shelf ready.  With both types I have to check the shelfmark is correct then input data on to our system so that the book appears correctly in the catalogue.  As soon as that is done the books can be put out to be shelved or placed on the ‘New Books’ display if they’re interesting looking.

12:00 – 12:30 Issue Desk

My first stint of the day on the issue desk is just before lunch.  Every staff member in the SSL takes turns on the issue desk so we’re normally only on for an hour at a time, half an hour at very busy times.  Today is especially busy.  With term just starting there are a lot of books returning so I’m on my feet constantly returning and issuing books.  I deal with a few issues from readers about how to set up printing accounts and how to use the binding machine.  At the SSL we have information sheets for pretty much anything so after a quick explanation most people are happy to go away with a leaflet and work on it themselves.  Although sometimes things (ie computers) don’t work the way they’re supposed to so it can take a bit longer to help someone get access.

12:30 – 1:30 Lunch time

1:30 – 2:30 Issue Desk

I’m straight back on the issue desk after lunch and it’s still very busy in the library.  I have a reader who has brought a friend along from an Italian university and they would like access to study in the library for the day.  I issue them with a day pass which we can give for up to three days, any more I tell them, and you’ll have to go to Bodleian admissions to get a card.  I spent probably 5 minutes unjamming a stapler that has decided to eat some staples and not give them back, the reader I’m doing this for seems very amused when I get out some tweezers to release the blockage – I have clearly done this before.  The afternoon delivery arrives from the Book Storage Facility in Swindon so I spend half an hour scanning in the stack requests readers have ordered.  Today there are 5 boxes of books so it takes a while as I also have to keep issuing/returning/helping with enquiries at the desk.  I think the longest it has taken us to receive in one box of stack requests is an hour due to how busy the desk is.

2:30 – 3:30 Shelving

With 1000s of books being returned after the Christmas vacation the reshelving trolleys are overflowing so we try to reshelve as often as we can at the beginning of term.  We have to make sure that all reference books are reshelved within 24 hours and other items within 48, so far this year I think we’ve succeeded!

3:30 – 3:50 Afternoon break

I grab a cup of tea for my afternoon break but end up spending it checking the email account and answering some queries about late returns.  A few readers have left books at home over the vacation so they can’t yet return them.    I make sure the books are renewed to give them a bit more time to return them and I also put a note on their account to say they’ve been in touch as we always try to help people who let us know if they’re having problems returning books

3:50 – 4:30 Missing book search

When a reader reports to us at the desk that they can’t find a book a form is filled out with the details and it is the trainees job to search for the books.  This is one of my most favourite and least favourite parts of the job, usually depending on if I can find the book.  It is very satisfying to be able to help someone who urgently needs an item that has been missing for a while.  It’s also very frustrating when you can’t find it, we just have to hope it’s here somewhere and will turn up so we search every few days for missing books.  I also spend this time looking for some books that people have told us they returned but are still on their account.  We search for these books quite a few times in case they are definitely here but in the wrong place.  Today I find one missing book but the reader who wanted it hasn’t left their details so I can’t tell them it’s been found, I put it back in the correct place and hope they find it later.

4:30 – 5:00 Wrapping up the day

There are lots of other things that the SSL trainees do but this is not the kind of job where you have the same duties every day so I take a look at a list of things I need to do to see if there is anything else for today.  There are a few books from the Radcliffe Science Library which have been returned here by mistake so I contact the reader and ask them to come and pick the books up.  I realise I haven’t dealt with any incoming post today so Sara must have done it all earlier, I quickly check to see if there is anything delivered this afternoon and there are a few bits of post for staff which I pop in their post trays.  I note down that today I haven’t done anything from my list of low use books to be removed from circulation, or books to change the status from reference only to normal loan, there are also more books to be processed and we need to start processing the books going to the bindery, these are all on my list for tomorrow.