In April a few of us trainees adventured to the beautiful city of Cambridge, also known as “The Other Place”, for a whirlwind tour of some of their libraries.
Our first stop was the Judge Business School, located in the former Addenbrooke’s Hospital building with colourful balconies and floating staircases (think Hogwarts meets Art Deco meets 1920s fairground). The Library is a small but welcoming user-friendly space catering for the needs of Judge Business School staff and students, with access to the specialised business databases Bloomberg and Eikon. My personal highlight has to be beanbags within the stacks. Or potentially the graffiti wall for readers to leave question drawings, messages of hope (or dread), for the librarians to respond to. Student wellbeing and enjoyment of the space was clearly a key consideration, with sections such as ‘Boost’ for wellbeing books and a less formal ‘Weird Ideas and Disruptive Thinking’ section.
Next we took the bus over to the West Hub, a sustainable three-storey development open to all departments at Cambridge University and members of the public. The library in this building, forming part of the Technology Libraries Team and Biological Sciences Libraries, is on the upper floor, which is naturally quieter than the lower floors thanks to the architectural design of the building. There are study spaces to suit everyone, comfortable booths and sofas, areas for group work and individual study pods. With huge floor to ceiling windows looking out onto what we’re assured will soon be lakes, gardens, and urban orchards, the building was incredibly bright and open. It was incredible to visit such a green and modern space, a completely different world to some of the medieval libraries in both Oxford and Cambridge. I have since declared that every library should have a tree growing inside.
Our last stop was the Cambridge University Library, the main research library of the university. One of the six UK legal deposit libraries, the UL is a huge, imposing 1930s structure, designed by the very same Giles Gilbert Scott who designed the Weston Library building here in Oxford, Battersea Power Station, and the red telephone box. The library houses nearly 10 million books, maps, manuscripts, and photographs, stored across 17 floors and more than 130 miles of shelving (which I can imagine is easy to get lost in). Unlike other legal deposit libraries, such as the Bodleian, much of the UL’s material is kept on open shelving for readers to borrow. We got a chance to look around some of the reading rooms and inspect one of the UL’s old card catalogues. It really is an impressive space, with a great view from the tower.
We finished the day with a walk around the market place and a quick pint by the river. It was great to see how some of the libraries in Cambridge function day-to-day and their different approaches to what a library should look like. I’m sure we all came away with lots to think about for our own libraries. We’re very grateful to the staff at the Judge Business School Library, the West Hub, and the UL for showing us around, as well as the Cambridge Libraries Graduate Trainees who joined us for some of the tours!
It is the sixth and final week of our ‘interview with a former trainee’ series! It has been really insightful to hear different perspectives on the training scheme – to understand what people have found most interesting, and also what they took away from their time as a library trainee. This week, we feature a perspective from a traineeship outside of Oxford, as we want to highlight that although many former Oxford trainees are still working in libraries today, similar opportunities are also available in libraries in Cambridge, London, and further afield. In our final interviews (for now), we hear from Freddie Hankin (Old Bodleian Library, 2020/21), and Leona Stewart (Trinity College Cambridge, 2017/18).
What did you most enjoy about this experience?
I had an atypical year because of COVID, but I would say working in beautiful surroundings with a huge library collection.
Meeting all kinds of Librarians! We were really lucky in Cambridge to have a schedule set up where we would visit a huge amount of other libraries & speak to a big variety of professional Librarians. As you’d expect, every Librarian we spoke to was unbelievably kind & helpful. It was chatting to all of them that made me so sure I wanted to keep pursuing Librarianship after the year was over.
Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?
Sessions on conservation and special collections were very interesting, and I really enjoyed the ones on digital archiving/open access.
The most useful training I took part in during my trainee year was learning to catalogue, & this has helped me out in every job I’ve applied for ever since. Aside from that, I took the trainee year to sit in on a many special collection seminars & workshops as I could which has prepared me for working with these collections as I do now.
Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?
I am currently doing a part-time distance Masters at the University of Sheffield in Information Management and Librarianship. I’m not sure I would have ever considered it without having done the traineeship.
I studied my MA Library & Information Services Management from the University of Sheffield straight off my traineeship. Studying the part-time, distance learning course at Sheffield meant I could work alongside studying & I took a Senior Library Assistant job at St John’s, Oxford, during that time. My degree was conferred in November 2020, but because of the pandemic I am actually only about to graduate. As I write this, my graduation is next week!
In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?
Increased confidence (and a Bodleian Keepcup).
Confidence, definitely! For me, there were so many new experiences involved in the traineeship: moving to Cambridge, my first quasi-professional role, interacting with many (many!) new people. It is helpful to view the traineeship as an opportunity to get stuck in to as many facets of library life as possible . This isn’t the case for everyone, but it was helpful for me that the staff is so large at Trinity I was a little bit surplus to requirement, so I had to ask a lot of questions & make my own work quite frequently, which has definitely helped me in the long run. Of course, I learned a lot of more tangible things as well, like cataloguing & how to spiral bind (& spiral bind & spiral bind & spiral bind…)
What are you doing now?
Working as a library assistant at the Bodleian Health Care libraries, but I’m about to leave Oxford and move to France for a few months!
Currently, I am working as Acting College Librarian at Keble College in Oxford, while the full-time Librarian is on maternity leave. On her return I will go back to my permanent role as Assistant Librarian. I am also a part of the CILIP LGBTQ+ Network Committee as Events & Communications Co-Ordinator.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I like to look back on my trainee year now & think of it as a time when I got to experience a lot with the safety net of the more well versed Librarians around me. Although times haven’t changed that much because I still rely on my Oxford colleagues for support… It was a great time to try things out, ask questions & get a feel for whether it is the right fit.
For some bonus content, feel free to check out Freddie’s introductory post to the Bodleian Libraries here:
At the end of March 2022, the OxCam College Librarians’ Conference was hosted online for the very first time. Held every two years, OxCam brings the college librarians from Oxford and Cambridge together to share experiences and knowledge, reflect on library practices, and of course, engage in some friendly rivalry (cake competition anyone??)! Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to meet in person, but instead joined a virtual conference spread over Thursday 24, Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 March. This was an excellent opportunity for us as trainees to hear from library professionals from across the Universities, and we are very grateful to Cambridge for hosting this year and for putting together such a fantastic programme! Each day was structured around a central theme, so here are a few thoughts about what was said and what we learned.
Day 1: Decolonisation
In many ways, the conference could not have gotten off to a better start than with the Reader Services Workshop led by the Cambridge Decolonising Working Group. This was a fascinating session which encouraged participants to think about the ways in which racial bias plays out in our libraries – primarily in virtual reader services scenarios – and how we as library professionals can respond to systemic issues such as unconscious bias, race- and name-based macroaggressions, and the degree awarding gap. In break-out rooms, we discussed the research of Sally Hamer (herself a former Wolfson College, Oxford, trainee!): ‘Colour blind: Investigating the racial bias of virtual reference services in English academic libraries’ (The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 47:5, 2021). Hamer’s research is an important read for anyone working in library services. In particular, it highlights how our response to a reader enquiry may be tied up with aspects other than the actual question – including, even, a reader’s name and the racial biases we have associated with that name. Yet what was also especially noteworthy about this session was that the break out groups fostered a real sense of involvement and discussion for participants. We were able to talk directly with people from different libraries in a range of roles and career stages: a really productive and, we think, a fitting start to OxCam 2022. You can watch Sally Hamer’s findings here: ‘Colour Blind: Investigating the racial bias of virtual reference services’.
After a short break – in which the virtual meeting room was left open for casual chatting as people ran for tea, bathroom breaks, and snacks – we reconvened for a panel discussion on Decolonisation & Discussion: Learning from Libraries Experiences. The three panellists were Genny Grim (Pembroke College, Cambridge), David Rushmer (English Faculty, Cambridge), and Renée Prud’Homme (Worcester College, Oxford). They began by each introducing the efforts taken in their library to decolonise the collections, before moving on to answer questions and discuss their work. Two things really came through in this session as being central to positive decolonisation work in Oxford and Cambridge libraries. The first was working directly with library stakeholders (students, other staff members, academics), and the second was committing to decolonisation as an ongoing, ever-evolving part of librarianship. Perhaps most poignant, though, was a parting question from the audience which asked, “can we decolonise the college library without decolonising the college [or the] wider Cambridge / Oxford library system”? This is something we are sure many of us will be thinking and acting upon in the future.
Day 2: Accessibility
The second day began with Accessibility and Inclusion in Libraries for Disabled Students, which was a reflection on a year of the Libraries Accessibility Service at Cambridge (Patrick Dowson, Accessibility Services Manager, Cambridge). The number of students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND or SEN) has been increasing significantly and the shocking statistic that there is a 3% awarding gap between SEND students and students without SEND. In addition, SEND students have a lower continuity rate. These facts show us we need to think about the social model of disability in our libraries. The social model of disability says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. The COVID-19 panic has increased some of these barriers, but also improved some, like hybrid study, ready access to scans, and more online resources. However, as Patrick Dowson stated, going back to the old normal before the pandemic is not an option – we must think about how libraries can work for SEND students in this ‘new normal’.
The following talk featured Eleanor Winterbottom (Apprentice Library Assistant, St Antony’s College, Oxford) and Aimee Burlakova (Librarian, St Antony’s College), who spoke about The Library, Information and Archive Services Assistant Apprenticeship Scheme: Opportunities for Diverse Applicants to Develop Careers in Libraries. The apprenticeship scheme is a great opportunity for those who want to work in libraries who did not necessarily go to university. You can read about Eleanor’s Day in the Life on the blog.
After a short break, we heard short talks about the Support Before Arrival: Enabling Non-Traditional Students to Thrive at Cambridge by Suzanne Tonkin, Librarian, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. The college’s new programme aims to improve students’ first-year experience and remove all barriers to success. This involves a bridging course between school and university, a residential summer school, and a scheme through which students could submit books they required from their reading lists and the library would buy them for them to keep for the year. Following this, Cecilia Vartholomeou, Senior Library Assistant at Christ’s Library, Cambridge, spoke about supporting students through the provision of accessibility equipment. Christ’s Library offers specialist and ergonomic equipment, but also resources which are available for all, such as coloured notepads and overlays, adjustable laptop or phone stands, magnifying glasses, book rests, and many more. She also spoke about library anxiety and readers experiencing threshold anxiety, which can be very common in the grand libraries at Oxford and Cambridge, and highlighted that it is important to offer up-to-date library and accessibility guides such as Cambridge’s College Access guide or Oxford’s Access Guide. Cecilia noted that the library’s book rests were very popular, and that the emoji stress balls were so popular that they all go as soon as they are put out.
Day 3: Lightning Talks
The final day of OxCam was a bit different from the first two – it was structured around 5- to 10-minute Lightning Talks. There were ten Lightning Talks in total, and they ranged in topic from how Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, has supported the University’s very first Foundation Year Students to to how Wolfson College, Cambridge, have welcomed and worked with early-career librarians looking for work experience.
There were also three Lightning Talks led by trainees – including one of our very own! Heather Barr (St Edmund Hall) spoke with Emma Anderson (Queen’s College, Cambridge) and Ellen Woolf (Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge) about what it has been like to enter librarianship during a time of such a shift in attitude, education, and behaviour around decolonisation. Heather says:
“I opened my part of the Lightning Talk by saying that our students are an exceptional resource to draw upon when we are thinking about decolonisation. But working closely with Ellen and Emma has really highlighted to me how valuable it is to collaborate with other librarians, especially from outside of our own institutions. We can all be each other’s resources! OxCam has been a wonderful opportunity to share ideas and experiences, and I can’t wait to build on the discussions we’ve had through the rest of my career.”
The conference ended with some interesting parting thoughts about decolonisation in libraries and improving accessibility. The winners of the logo competition and the bake-off were announced. Sadly, the cake submission from the Oxford graduate trainee housemates was not mentioned, but the winners were so impressive, we don’t really mind.
(The following is part one of a two-part blog post on the 2019 OxCam Librarians’ Biennial Conference. It features individual recollections of the day’s events, kindly contributed by some of the Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees in attendance.)
The 2019 OxCam College Librarians’ Biennial Conference, hosted by Worcester College, Oxford, took place on the 19th March in the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre. The event provided an opportunity to share ideas and updates on developments currently impacting the library services of Oxford and Cambridge University colleges. An exhibition space had been set up in the conference centre’s anteroom, allowing delegates the chance to network throughout the day with representatives from numerous organisations, including Cambridge University Press, Temple Bookbinders, Blackwell’s, and Gresswell. Upon arrival, attendees were given a welcome pack which included a programme of proceedings, some helpful maps and floor plans, a register of delegates and, of course, a complimentary bookmark.
The first talk on mental ill-health in the workplace, delivered by Dan Holloway, was warmly received by the delegation and provided a positive, constructive foundation for the day ahead. Jenna, Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian Law Library (BLL) details the conference’s opening prelection:
‘Dan Holloway’s presentation was the first of the day, and he set a really good tone for the remainder of the conference by delivering a very thoughtful and open talk which conveyed important information in an informal and accessible way. Dan ran through some of the issues contributing to and exasperating mental ill-health in the work place; he considered the things we can do to aid workers with mental health difficulties and to break down stigmas, using facts and statistics alongside experiences from his own mental health story.’
After a round of informative and thought-provoking presentations, breakout sessions ran contiguous to the morning’s plenary session. The Graduate Library Trainees were asked to attend a special session led by Eleanor Kelly of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Ross Jones, Graduate Library Trainee at the Bodleian History Faculty Library, recounts his experience in the passage below:
‘The Graduate Trainee Special Session took place in the Smethurst Studio and served as a platform for sharing our experiences as library trainees. In all, a total of twenty trainees attended, including a party of six from Cambridge University colleges.
Discussions opened with a brief ice-breaker exercise in which we were asked to share our name and our place of work with the group. We were also asked to describe our respective libraries in one word – ‘accommodating’, ‘comfortable’, ‘warm’ and ‘antiquated’ were some examples. After a round of introductions, Eleanor organised us all into five smaller groups and prompt sheets were circulated to guide conversation towards specific talking points. These points centred on aspects of our experiences such as the skills we’d attained, any accomplishments we’d achieved, the challenges we’d faced, and the types of library work we were involved in. I think structuring the conversation in this way helped to determine the significance of any similarities or contrasts that stemmed from working in different libraries.
Towards the end of the session, the group I was in broached the possibility of applying for postgraduate courses in library-related fields and discussed whether it was preferable to enrol as a full-time or part-time student. We also speculated which career paths might suit us best in the future. It was equal parts interesting and reassuring to hear from my compeers about the various activities trainees were involved with day to day; despite the differences, it seems inevitable that every trainee will, at one point, find themselves book processing, adhering bookplates and spine labels to new acquisitions!’
Once the morning breakout sessions had concluded, the delegation broke for lunch in Worcester College Hall. It was a hurried affair as visits to an Oxford archive, museum or college library were scheduled to run concurrently in the early afternoon. Natasha, one of the visiting trainees from Pembroke College, Cambridge, reflects on her tour of the Queen’s College Library in the passage below:
‘After lunch we split into groups for one of the most anticipated parts of the day, the library visits, and the Queen’s College Library did not disappoint. Amanda Saville, the Librarian, raced through the College and Library’s histories before letting us into the Upper Library.
This space is the oldest part of the Library and it remains open as a student study area. A staircase connects it to the Lower Library which houses much of the modern teaching collection and before the extension the shelves were full. The New Library is the most recent extension and it opened in 2017. Hidden beneath the Provost’s Garden, it allowed the library to expand and houses the special collections and archives in a secure and environmentally controlled storeroom. Multiple new reading rooms allow for better access to the special collections and cater to a wider range of student needs. It was great seeing how popular the New Library is, even in the vacation, and how well Amanda’s team did in supporting their users throughout the different Library spaces.’
Meanwhile, Bethan, a trainee at the Old Bodleian Library, was among those visiting Exeter College’s Cohen Quad. Elaborating on her experience, she says:
‘I was given the chance to visit Exeter College’s Cohen Quad which contained a purpose-built facility for the College Library’s Special Collections. William Morris is a notable alumnus of Exeter, and some of his possessions were donated to the college. This included his many pipes and a lock of his hair. We were shown an array of artefacts, including books produced by Morris’s printing house, Kelmscott Press; there was a beautifully illustrated edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which apparently is the original ‘Kelmscott Chaucer’ and belonged to Morris himself.
The Special Collections Librarian showed us the new facility which houses the collections and archives. This included the colour-coded rolling stacks and a purpose-built metal gate used to keep the rarest items secure. She discussed the logistics of moving over 30,000 rare books and manuscripts to the site and the challenges she faced in the process. The collections themselves were originally held in poor conditions, so each item had to be individually cleaned and restored before being moved. There was time afterwards for questions and a brief discussion about the promotion of Special Collections.’
‘Mark Bainbridge, the Librarian of Worcester College, was our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide. I think I can safely say everyone in our group had a very pleasant visit. We first climbed up an eighteenth century cantilevered spiral staircase with over 60 steps to reach the modern (upper) library, which was created in the twentieth century. It is open 24/7 and holds 65,000 volumes across two levels. These are all digitally catalogued and can be borrowed via a self-service machine. The card catalogue was discontinued in February 2006, but is still available for consultation. They acquire around 1,000 books each year and have approximately 6 years of space left before the library is full, although there is some weeding to be done which should give them a little more time. The first professional librarian to work here introduced an in-house classification system in the 1960s, which is still used today.
Naturally the highlight of our visit was the handsome Lower Library, completed in 1736. Most of the shelves hold Dr George Clarke’s large bequest of books, manuscripts, prints and drawings, a great deal of which are not digitally catalogued. Sadly, we did not get to walk along the gallery, but we were a big group so this probably was not feasible. The Lower Library is open from 8am until midnight each day. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular place for students to work, so much so that they have to set out modern desks and chairs during particularly busy periods.
The library team had kindly selected and displayed a few interesting items for us to view in a small room next to the Lower Library…’
Across town, Jenna (BLL) and Eva of Newnham College, Cambridge, were welcomed into the grounds of Oxford University’s largest college, Christ Church. In detailing their experiences, they recount the awesome purlieus and inspiring collections of the college library.
‘It is futile to try to describe the overwhelming grandeur of Christ Church and its libraries in terms of beauty. An oddball of my generation, I am not a big fan of photographing things, preferring to just experience events and commit them to memory. The whistle stop tour of Christ Church library however had me almost instinctively reaching for my iPhone and snapping away unashamedly with the crowd around me.’
‘The visit to Christ Church library began with a small introduction to the college and the library by the College Librarian, Steven Archer, in Tom Quad with assistance from Emma Sillett who is the Reader Services Librarian. The grounds of the college are impressive – Tom Quad being the biggest quad of all the colleges – and you can see why Christ Church has a reputation for being one of the grandest colleges in Oxford. We then walked through the cloisters to what is actually the ‘New’ Library, which was completed in 1772 as a result of the Old Library becoming so full that they had to build another building to accommodate the amount of books that were being donated.’
‘What was striking about the New Library was how spacious and accommodating the surroundings felt, as well as elegant. The silence felt hushed as opposed to suffocating. It was as though the prestige of the college’s history and status created an atmosphere of inspiration, rather than intimidation.’
‘The Library’s reading rooms are on the ground floor of the New Library, which holds the working collection, and is a pleasant mix of antiquated and classical design with beautiful iron spiral staircases and wooden shelving, contrasting with white columns and domed archways. I really enjoyed seeing students using the reading rooms, which shows that the ground floor is comfortable and accessible for students to borrow and work from.
In contrast to this though, the Upper Library was arresting in its grandeur and the smell of old books – addictive to anyone working in libraries. The upper floor consists of the college’s rare books which are mainly arranged under named shelves referencing the benefactors who bequeathed the collections. This room also holds a large amount of interesting objects, such as a hat which apparently belonged to Cardinal Wolsey and a full horse skeleton which was being used by an anatomy class at Ruskin School of Art.’
‘The magnificent upper library, where the special collections are held is overwhelming. Our tour guide and head librarian Steven was at pains to emphasise the main function of the room is for the collections to be used and consulted, and that this was actively encouraged to potentially timid students.’
‘Steven had arranged for items from the college archive to be brought out for us to see, including an illuminated manuscript, one of Elizabeth I’s bibles, the foundation charter of the college, and a photograph album and draft drawings for Alice in Wonderland which belonged to Lewis Carroll who was Sub-Librarian at Christ Church during the second half of the 19th Century.’
‘The literary association with Christ Church that gets most people excited is Harry Potter, its cloisters and staircase having featured as settings for various scenes in the film series. I, however, was far more excited by another fantasy staple of fiction embedded in its history: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To be able to stand in the same spot as Lewis Carroll did, beside his desk, and look out of the window at the ‘Cheshire Cat’s Tree’ was an eerily wonderful moment, as was being able to look at handcrafted figures of the characters made in 1900 and see original sketches Carroll’s brother drew of the book’s illustrations. I doubt I am the first to tour Christ Church and leave feeling rather like Alice.’
‘Overall, it was a really superb and informative tour which was well-structured but also allowed us freedom to explore the dizzying double-height Upper Library ourselves – I feel very lucky to have had such knowledgeable guides in Steven and Emma and I felt very inspired being ‘let loose’ in such a beautiful library.’
See part two of this blog post for details on the afternoon sessions attended by Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees!
(The following is part two of a two-part blog post on the 2019 OxCam Librarians’ Biennial Conference. It features individual recollections of the day’s events, kindly contributed by some of the Oxford and Cambridge University Graduate Library Trainees in attendance.)
After a busy morning of exhibitions and talks, and an insightful afternoon of visits, the delegation returned to the conference centre for the final few sessions of the day. Our story of events picks up again with Emmy, Graduate Library Trainee at Lady Margaret Hall, and her reflections on the Library Exhibitions On A Budget Session:
‘When we had returned from our lunchtime visits (and of course had a break for tea and plenty of cake) it was time for another breakout session. This time the trainees were spread between the different rooms. I had signed up for a session on how to produce library exhibitions on a budget, led byVictoria Stevens.
As an accredited library and archives conservator, Victoria had lots of experience to share with us! Some of her tips included:
Make your own book cradles andVivakleaflet stands.
Think about what story the objects tell, and don’t squash too many of them into your arrangement.
If you do have some money to invest, consider purchasing alight logger.
Watching practical demonstrations and handling samples of display materials helped me to understand how these can be custom made in the library, as long as we are careful to chooseconservation-grade materials. As I am a trainee at a college library, I am lucky enough to work with our small but interesting collection ofrare books, so I am excited to try out some of these ideas back at the library.’
In a separate seminar room, Rowan, the trainee at St John’s College, Cambridge, was attending the session ‘Speed Dating with Special Collections’. Co-hosted by colleagues from both universities, the session touched upon the strengths and weaknesses of different outreach strategies in raising the profile of special collections:
‘Julia Walworth, of Merton College, Oxford and Anne McLaughin of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ran a session which allowed participants to all get involved discussing the pros and cons of different special collections outreach strategies. Online initiatives were popular, with many libraries making use of social media to highlight a particular item each month. However, it was raised that the main followers of library Twitter accounts are often other libraries, meaning that other options need to be utilised to engage a variety audiences. Such strategies, it was suggested, could include regular exhibitions and open days as well as practical workshops. The collaborative nature of the session meant we could learn of strategies that involve those less likely to already be accessing special collections. For example, inviting school groups to use the collections within their curriculum allows early engagement with historical materials, well before university. With all outreach strategies, there is a good deal of planning and preparation that goes into the finished strategy, and this has to be taken into account when deciding what will work best for each library. However, it pays off in the end.’
Meanwhile, Isobel of Queens’ College, Cambridge, had chosen to join the breakout session about fundraising for special collections. Lead by Naomi Tiley, the session helped to elucidate some of the issues inherent in fundraising projects. It also proved a useful introduction to the afternoon plenary session, which considered in detail Balliol College’s Wellcome Trust funded project to reclassify a collection of early modern texts, collated and bequeathed by Nicholas Crouch:
‘I attended two sessions on the topic of fundraising for special collections – a common necessity for many Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The first was a breakout session, run by Naomi Tiley of Balliol College, Oxford, where attendees were encouraged to share their experiences of fundraising, and offer observations and advice for future projects. As a topic outside of my direct experience to date, but very much in line with my personal career aspirations in rare books librarianship, I found the session extremely interesting and informative. It was especially useful to learn about potential funding bodies and application processes within the practical context of real-life projects and planned funding applications.
Following the breakout session, we returned to the main lecture theatre for the final plenary session of the conference. Focusing once again on fundraising for special collections, the presentation explored a case study undertaken by Balliol College, Oxford in conjunction with theWellcome Trust. Naomi Tiley and James Howarth (Balliol College andSt Edmund Hall, Oxford) were engaging speakers; incorporating question-and-answer based dialogues as they took us step by step through their project to secure funding for cataloguing theNicholas Crouch collection. The session was particularly informative about not only fundraising, but also both in-house and outreach opportunities that can evolve from special collections cataloguing and subsequent improved accessibility.’
As the day’s business drew to a close, all the trainees agreed that the conference had been a thoroughly inspiring day of talks, visits and networking. We all gathered a tremendous amount of practical information from the sessions we attended and took away many new ideas to implement in our current libraries and in the future. As trainees, being able to meet and hear from so many professionals in the field was hugely valuable (as was sharing our library experiences with fellow trainees from ‘the other place’!). Our only regret was that we couldn’t attend all of the breakout sessions, because they all sounded brilliant! Those of us attending as the official delegate for our respective libraries certainly had plenty to report back to our colleagues.
On behalf of us all, thank you very much to Worcester College for hosting, to all the conference speakers and sponsors, and to the organisers — Liz Kay (Brasenose), Emma Sillett (Christ Church), Diana Hackett (Nuffield), Eleanor Kelly (St. Hilda’s) and Marina Sotiriou (Lincoln).
Amy Douglas – St Hugh’s College, Oxford
Isobel Goodman – Queens’ College, Cambridge
Emmy Ingle – Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
Ross Jones – Bodleian History Faculty Library and Radcliffe Camera
This is part of a series of blog posts on the recent trip to Cambridge that we organised. On the 17th of May, we got up very early in the morning, to board the X5 from Oxford to Cambridge, in order to meet up with the Cambridge University Library Trainees! After what felt like a million roundabouts in Milton Keynes, we arrived and promptly went to Tatties Café, so that we could get a caffeine boost for a day full of walking and touring.
I am going to talk about the library at Christ’s College, where the lovely trainee Lucy gave us a tour and discussed what it was like to work in the college. As we were visiting during exam time, we had to be very quiet! Lucy told us about how the library staff were trying to support the students as much as possible – one of the ways they are doing this is through ‘Squash O’clock’. Every day at 3.30pm the librarians ring a bell to let students know that they have laid out squash and biscuits for them to come and enjoy. This seems like a great way to help with exam stress!
Students can use the facilities 24/7, and borrow books for two weeks. The library caters to the courses taught at Christ’s, with the aim to have all of the required texts for undergraduates. Similarly to other college libraries that I have visited, the library also has a more general interest collection – this includes fiction, travel guides and DVDS.
Christ’s College Library is also special in that it also has one of the largest collections of sheet music in Cambridge that students are able to borrow. One of the most unusual things that students can also borrow is a skeleton, to help with studying anatomy!
After visiting the working library of Christ’s, Lucy then took us into the Old Library. This dates back to 1505, when the college was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort. Famous alumni of Christ’s College include Charles Darwin and John Milton – the library owns items linked to them, such as first editions of On the Origin of Species and Paradise Lost. It was amazing to be able to see some of the treasures of Christ’s College. In the Old Library, they regularly put on exhibitions so that readers can see some of Christ’s special items. Lucy told us about how she is working on the next exhibition which will highlight the relationship between the college and America.
We all had a great day in Cambridge, because each of the libraries that we visited was so interesting and because it was nice to meet up again with other trainees who do very similar things to us. Thank you again for having us, Lucy, Meriel, Emily, Charlotte and Harriet!
On a gloriously sunny Saturday a group of trainees ventured to the Other Place to meet with our Cambridge counterparts and have a nose around their libraries. After a lovely cup of tea, our first visit was to Trinity College, where Harriet Hale, the current trainee, showed us round.
Trinity is the largest of the Cambridge colleges, founded by Henry VIII in 1546. Two existing colleges were combined to form Trinity: Michaelhouse (in existence since 1324) and King’s Hall (originally established by Edward II in 1317). It is stunningly beautiful – if I had been a student there, I’m not sure I would have ever managed to get much work done because I’d have been too busy gazing around in a gormless fashion!
The library can be found on two sides of one of the courts. The Wren Library is situated above the colonnades where Sir Isaac Newton (a member of the college) is said to have conducted experiments on the nature of echoes – quite a claim to fame. It was also interesting to hear how the colonnades were used as a hospital for wounded soldiers in World War 1 – we even got to see some photos showing the rows of beds along the corridors, with the courts simply blocked off by a temporary wall.
We headed first to the working library, which is spread over the Reading Room and Lower Library. Stocking books for all undergrad courses, it was full of hard-working students getting ready for Finals. All loans are issued at the desk by humans, and they have a large team of librarians to keep on top of this. As well as books and journals, there is a large selection of DVDs available to borrow, and it certainly seemed to be a very busy and popular library. We had a quick peek down in the Stacks as well, which were lovely and clean (something I’m not used to) and contained some rather unusual holdings: a collection of skeletons and even a couple of brains that students can borrow!
We then moved on to the ridiculously impressive Wren Library. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed much of the furniture within the library), it was completed in 1695, and is simply stunning. It contains the manuscripts and early printed books that made up the collection in 1820, along with other special collections, such as medieval manuscripts, a large section of Sir Isaac Newton’s own library and much more! On display was a First Folio, a beautiful map, some fascinating notebooks belonging to Newton, and A. A. Milne’s manuscript for Winnie the Pooh. A very grand stained-glass window at one end depicts the presentation of Newton to George III (with Francis Bacon looking on approvingly) and there is a rather fabulous marble sculpture of Byron, another alumnus, created by Thorvaldsen and originally intended for Westminster Abbey. However, due to his tendency towards scandalous behaviour, the Abbey refused to accept the statue and so he now gazes down on hard-working students and tourists alike. No sign of his pet bear though…
I really enjoyed the tour of Trinity’s libraries: it was great to see a beautiful example of a special collections library sitting alongside a bustling, working college library. I really liked the way the two were accessible to the college members, and how open the Wren was to non-University visitors – sharing a resource like that sets such a great example. The Union Library is of interest to a great many people from outside the Union, and I am always pleased when people are excited to come and visit it – fostering interest in any kind of library has got to be a good thing in the current climate!
Many thanks to Harriet and her colleagues for letting us invade.
On Monday, some of the trainees had the opportunity to step into the alternate universe that is Cambridge. The structural similarity of Oxford and Cambridge means that a lot of useful comparison and discussion can occur amongst the universities’ college libraries. Even within a group of ostensibly similar institutions, the conference really highlighted how different each college library is, in terms of number of staff, scope of the collection, integration into wider college life, service to external readership—hearing the excellent papers and speaking with library staff throughout the day demonstrated the enormous energy and passion with which all the college libraries meet, exceed, and expand expectations on a daily basis.
Below are reflections on some of the many fascinating aspects of the day!
Katherine Steiner (Law Library):
One of the talks was by Amelie Roper, Charlotte Byrne and Steven Archer on ‘Unlocking the Old Library at Christ’s College, Cambridge’. They told the story of challenging their college’s expectations about the Old Library, built in the 19th-century and housing many unique and precious items in a 25,000-strong collection dating from the 11th-century onwards, a few of which were donated by the College’s re-founder Lady Margaret de Beaufort. Amelie, Charlotte and Steven explained that the Old Library was previously accessible only upon request, but now they have opened it to the public three afternoons a week and are holding exhibitions and outreach events there on a regular basis. As well as the obvious benefits of increased numbers of people seeing the treasures of Christ’s (their statistics record the considerable footfall), they have really helped to integrate the Old Library’s history into the life of the college again, so that now guest lectures and college events are planning receptions held in the Old Library. This in turn makes it more likely that the college will respect the uniqueness of the collection, and perhaps find some money for further exploration of it (much of it is in Arabic and other non-Latin scripts). I was very interested to hear about the interweaving of college and library, as well as the exciting ideas for exhibitions (including non-book items), the team at Christ’s’ foray into social media (they have a blog specifically about the Old Library, and a twitter and facebook page), and their great online guide to the Old Library.
Later in the day, I was lucky enough to be taken on a tour of the library itself, which did not disappoint. The Working library (built in 1974 and home to undergraduate texts, reading room space, computers etc) holds about 80,000 volumes on 3 floors, as well as a real skeleton. Among some of the items on display in the Old Library were notebooks by alumnus William Paley (known for his version of the design argument for the existence of God), a beautiful 15th-century illuminated copy of Euclid’s Elements in Latin, and some of Charles Darwin’s correspondence. Seeing some of these books and papers made me even more appreciative of the staff’s efforts in opening the place to the public – it is definitely worth a visit!
Olivia Cross (Oxford Union):
Being the trainee at the Oxford Union Library, it was fascinating to be given a tour of the Cambridge Union. The Librarian showed me and my two colleagues around the building and we soon noticed similarities and differences to our own beloved Union! The Cambridge Union similarly functions as a private members club, it houses many student debates and invites famous speakers to give talks to its members. Like the Oxford Union, it is an organization that is headed by students. Many of the rooms in the Union are very similar to ours, including the bar, snooker room and the debating chamber. One difference is that the Cambridge Union is in fact a registered charity. The best part of the tour (apart from the hot mug of coffee in their comfortable café bar!), was definitely being able to see the Keynes Library. Although it is a lot smaller than our Library, it is a lovely working space and provides many useful texts for its members. We were told that the South Wing of the Library was severely damaged by a bomb during the Second World War. You could even see holes in some of the books where pieces of shrapnel had pierced the spines and the covers! This tour was a brilliant experience and made the Oxford-Cambridge College Librarians Conference extra special.
Niall Sheekey (St. Hilda’s):
I was particularly interested in the presentation on RFID implementation. Having worked on a large-scale project in a university library previously, I was interested to see how a college library would go about this. As the machines are quite noisy when programming and printing tags it can be quite disturbing for students studying, making the timing of the implementation an important issue. In Birmingham we were able to do much of this in the staff area in the basement or a lesser used area of the library. Colleges are perhaps more hamstrung by perhaps having only one or two reading rooms and obviously shorter staffed. The options included to close the library for a period of three weeks in the summer and use a team of student workers to process the entire collection. This was done in two teams of four, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. My own experience tells me that this is a monotonous, laborious task which requires a high level of accuracy and concentration so attempting to do this in 7/8-hour shifts is not recommended.
RFID technology is relatively new and impressive, and students were surprised by the ease of use. If looking to move to self-issue, 24-hour access or extended opening hours it is a more preferable option than the traditional magnetic strip, which is going out of date. The RFID tag can combine catalogue information as well as security settings. Some other advantages over this system included the decrease in false alarms that the old desensitising self-issue system caused, making student use easier and saving staff time from investigating these. However, if moving from this system to RFID tags it is important to deactivate old tags as they still might register if brought into other libraries. Stocktaking can also be performed without removing books from the shelf with the aid of a hand-held scanner that can read the tags by being waved across the spines (“Magic,” according to some students). Advanced settings can even tell if the books are in order!
Some other suggestions/considerations included running demos with a mixture of students, academics, IT and other staff to ensure that the machines are user-friendly. If planning RFID implementation it is important to consider the installation and long-term costs, such as annual maintenance. It was noted that the attractiveness of the system and the benefits for students and staff should justify the budget for such a project.
The trip to Gonville and Caius was very pleasant and we had the chance to view the gorgeous Lower Library containing a display of early printed books, manuscripts and oddly a logbook of the wagers placed between college members over the years– Examples, whether there were more than 50 members in college at that time or that England would be at peace within a month (dated December 1914!). The Upper Library containing the undergraduate collection was just as spectacular, combining beautiful arched double-height ceilings and cathedralesque windows illuminating the long, narrow reading room with the added bonus of sockets at every desk, which beautiful old libraries are unfortunately not always able to provide.
All in all, we returned from “the other place” unscathed and got to interact and network with our fellow trainees and other library staff.