The Twelve Days of Libmas

Arguably one of the best known example of a cumulative song, The Twelve Days Of Christmas has been in existence as far back as 1780, when it was published in Mirth Without Mischief and has featured in many a carol concert (who doesn’t love belting out ‘five gold rings,’ after all?). As a means of counting down to the Christmas closure period, the trainees collaborated with colleagues across the Bodleian and College libraries to bring you our own adaptation of The Twelve Days of Christmas – naturally with a library twist!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my library sent me…

Twelve Music Boxes

Karlheinz Stockhausen was an influential German composer of the 20th and early 21st centuries. One of his most well-known compositions is Tierkreis, or Zodiac, which included 12 movements, each representing one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. This was later adapted as part of Musik im Bauch (translated as ‘music in the stomach/belly’), where each movement was transferred to a music box. In performances, three boxes would be selected and inserted into the stomach of a “bird-man” puppet called Miron, who would be suspended above the stage and accompanied by six percussionists.  

An album cover with a bright red background. In the centre there is an image of a bird-man puppet facing the camera, with an opening in its stomach that someone is placing a music box in. There is blue text above reading 'MUSIK IM BAUCH' and text below reading 'Stockhausen.'
The album cover for Musik im Bauch by Stockhausen


Stockhausen, Karlheinz, & Stockhausen, Christel. (1985). Tierkreis = Zodiac = Zodiaque : Version für Klarinette und Klavier : 1975/81, Werk Nr. 41 8/9 (1st ed.). Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.


Eleven Kickstools Dancing (written by Abby Evans)

A gif showing a short stop motion animation. Blue, yellow and red footstools, some with plastic ducks on top, move from the right to the left. In the background there are rows of tables and chairs, with bookshelves at the back of the room.
Eleven kickstools dancing through the EFL

We have lots of kickstools available at the library, so you can reach high shelves without injuring yourself – or the books! Once a year we test the kickstools to make sure they’re still fit and healthy, and not wobbly or unsafe. This year the EFL’s ducks decided to help too! 




Ten Lords A-Leaping (written by Charlie Ough)

Burke’s Peerage

Lords would ‘leap’ into the ranks of nobility by virtue of the “Commoners at Westminster”, according to the publisher of the first 21st century editions of that illustrious series, Burke’s Peerage and Landed Gentry. Housed in the oldest reading room of the Old Bodleian, Duke Humfrey’s Library, Burke’s seems to represent perfectly some of the most uncomfortable views held in Oxford in taking aim at parvenu aristocrats who, by talent, hard work, or just celebrity, have taken the place of lords and ladies hitherto upholding the “values of this Kingdom and of its many Dominions and Territories across the seas.


Nine Books for Binding 

Given just how old some of our books are, its understandable that signs of wear and tear begin to appear. Depending on the age and importance of the books, they can either be sent to the Conservation Team (housed in the Weston) or to the bindery for a bit of TLC.

A closeup of a bookshelf with 9 books, some with visible damage. A white label is stuck to the bottom of the shelf with black text that reads 'Please leave for: REBINDING.'
Nine books for binding


Eight Maids in Writing (written by Grace Exley)

Eight books which highlighting working class women in literature sit in front of a panelled wall, a potted plant sits to the left.
A display on working class women at Jesus College Library

Not very Christmassy, perhaps, but delving into literature about maids frequently reveals discontent about tendencies towards the abuse of working-class women and the way that economic structures echo and reinforce these tendencies. This display at Jesus College Library has examples of fiction and nonfiction books that examine the treatment of working-class women. 



Several Singers Singing

The Bodleian Choir (made up of members from across Oxford’s GLAM – Gardens Libraries and Museums – sector ), after rehearsing throughout October, November and December, got the chance to perform at the Weston Library and the Divinity School in early December. Just one of a huge range of festive activities on offer in Oxford as we approach Christmas.

Five people stand in front of wood panelling each with a songbook held open in front of them. They are smiling with their mouths open in song.
Several singers singing


Six All Souls Mallards

All Souls College has a long association with mallards. Dating back to at least 1632, All Souls College mark a custom known as ‘Hunting the Mallard’ every hundred years on January 14th that involves a procession with lit torches. (Hole, 1950). As the last such ceremony took place in 2001, these wooden mallards will have to tide us over for the next 79 years! 

Hole, C. (1950). English custom & usage (3rd ed.). London: Batsford.

Five wooden mallards sit atop a row of blue and red books on a bookshelf. One is significantly larger than the others and has a loop of blue tinsel around his green neck. Three little brown mallards sit beside him to the right and a brown red and yellow mallard appears to peer down at the floor to his left. Above them all is a painting of a mallard in a golden frame.
Six Mallards of All Souls College.

Five Old Keys (written by Caitlín Kane)

Lots of our collections are housed in very old buildings, so we’re used to some old fashioned security measures. This particularly archaic set of old keys unlock Muniment Tower at New College. The tower was built in the late 14th Century, and it houses New College’s archives.

Four Festive Ducks (written by Abby Evans)

Exit, pursued by a duck? If you’ve visited the EFL recently, you might have caught a glimpse of their four festive ones! There’s Santa Duck, Frosty the Snow Duck, Rein-Duck (with a charming reindeer hat), and Han(duck)kah. They can often be found hanging around the returns trolley, welcoming all the books back to the library. But they like to move around too. When I asked them, they said it was because they wanted to get to know everything about how the library works – just like a Trainee!

If you are popping into the EFL, don’t forget to say hello to Bill too. He’s our full-time duck and usually sits on the main enquiry desk, just in front of the PC, greeting readers and helping library staff scan all the loans and returns.



Three French Gems

Making recommendations is a particularly enjoyable part of working in libraries, especially when we can get creative with our displays (see if you can spot the tiny KeepCup)! . French books are – unsurprisingly – found in abundance at the Taylor Library, but can also be found elsewhere, including on display at Jesus College Library.


Two Belligerent Busts (written by Ruth Holliday)

At the bottom of the stairs to the Upper Library (which houses some of Christ Church’s special collections) an array of somewhat imposing busts hover, as if waiting to test your knowledge on cataloguing systems. Among them are Richard Busby [1], a headmaster of Westminster school in the 17thcentury [2] and Richard Frewen, who actually studied at Westminster under Busby and later studied and taught at Christ Church where he became a physician, amongst other things [3].

[1] The British Museum hold a selection of portraits of Busby – see them here! 

[2] A not very generous description of whom can be found in Pope’s Dunciadfor those willing to put up with its infamously relentless referents. 

[3] An interesting and varied character was Richard Frewen! Read more about him here.

And a Pigeon with a Pear Tree

Perhaps taking the ‘opening doors’ concept a little too far, this guest reader at the Taylor Institution Library ruled the roost of the research collection for a few hours back in August.

It seemed only fitting to pair our pigeon with this gorgeous woodcut illustration of a pear tree from John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum, published in 1640.


Now that the tune is definitely stuck in all of your heads, nothing remains but for me to say thank you to all of the people who contributed to this post; specifically the trainees and the Music Faculty Library. The Twelve Days of Libmas has also been shared on our twitter. On behalf of all of the 2022-23 trainees, I would also like to thank the readers of this blog- we hope you enjoyed reading the posts as much as we did writing them! We’ll be back with more content from across the Bodleian and College Libraries in January, but until then we wish you all an enjoyable and relaxing festive period and a fantastic start to 2023!

A time for reflection

With the holidays fast approaching, decorations have started to appear in the Libraries and a festive spirit is in the air. For some of our Graduate Library Trainees, it has been the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year so far, and talk about some of the highlights of their role.


Heather Barr, St Edmund HallA painting of the front of the Library, covered in snow, drawn from the opposite side of the Quad

We brought Christmas to St Edmund Hall’s Old Library this year with a display of books and archive materials with fun festive facts and college celebrations throughout the years. Our display includes beautiful wintery paintings, including one of Teddy Hall’s Front Quad in Snow (1966), given to Principal Kelly by the artist, Alexandra Troubetzkoy (see right)Our Old Library is home to the first scientific publication to interrogate the shape of snowflakes (see left): Johannes Kepler’s C. Maiestmathematici strena seu De niue sexangula (1611) (SEH Shelfmark 4° G 18(6)).

Three scientific drawings of different aspects of snowflakes

Kepler conjectures that they must be formed as such to optimise their tessellation, like a honeycomb. Or, perhaps there is some quality in the water that causes them to freeze in their signature hexagonal shape? Most importantly, he identifies a link between the shape of snowflakes and other crystalline formations in rocks.A photograph of two Christmas cards from Principal Emden’s Collection

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some cards! We showcased Christmas cards from the Archives, collected and saved by Principal Emden during the Second World War (see right)These cards were sent from all over the world, including from H.M.S. Satellite, a naval ship in the middle of the ocean. Some have rather topical designs, such as a bull charging Hitler, or the three wise men being guided by a shining Intelligence Corps crest! Today, these cards serve a positive reminder that even in the midst of worldwide suffering and disaster, small messages of hope and love can go a long way.


Izzie Salter, Sackler Library

As term draws to a close, the Sackler Library has become quieter and quieter. Between issuing books on the main desk, my colleague and I have donned it with decorations. Crafted out of library paraphernalia – who knew archival tying tape could be so versatile – I hope this has brought some cheer to our more loyal readers, staying here until closure. To those based locally to the Sackler, do walk past the Ashmolean one evening. It looks beautiful this time of year.

My first term as a trainee has been wonderfully varied. I have been so fortunate to work on some amazing projects at the library, as well as spending time learning alongside my fellow trainees. A few highlights of this term include presenting Japanese photography books (which I have researched regularly over the past 3 months) at the History of Art Show and Tell, working with the trainees to produce Black History reading recommendations, and learning about conservation and special collections at the Weston Library. I can’t wait to see what the new year brings, after a restful Christmas break.

[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]


Jemima Bennett, New College LibraryA decorated Christmas tree, a snowman formed out of books and a trolley of books individually wrapped in Christmas paper

New College Library Christmas started particularly early, even by Oxford standards, as by mid-November we had begun to put together a Christmas exhibition, and our Twitter advent calendar, choosing items and writing captions. I have also spent several very enjoyable afternoons wrapping books for our Surprise Christmas Loan scheme, as well as decorating our Christmas tree, and helping create an iconic book sculpture (pictured here). This term has been a blast – a wide-ranging and really relevant set of training sessions, an excellent trainee cohort, and being able to work with such beautiful manuscripts are definitely some highlights.


Lucy Davies, Social Science Library

A selection of staff, wearing festive jumpers and masks in the libraryAt the SSL, we got into the Christmas mood by celebrating Christmas Jumper Day. Wearing our best festive jumpers (and masks!), we raised £142 for Save the Children. A highlight of this term has been the training sessions every week and gaining an insight into all the different jobs within the Bodleian Libraries. I especially loved the trip to the Conservation Studio at the Weston Library! I also really enjoy seeing the variety of books that arrive from the BSF every day and talking to readers about their research.


Georgie Moore, St John’s College Library

If you are following any Libraries, Museums, or Archives on Twitter, you’ll probably have noticed the annual December deluge of Christmassy content.

Outside of term time, I’m responsible for scheduling one Tweet a week, so I have been prowling our catalogue for festive material. Drafting a Tweet was part of the application process for this Trainee position, but even still I didn’t realise quite how much thought goes into maintaining a consistent tone and diversity of content.

A page of advertisements from the Mugby Junction journal, featuring ads for Epps’s Cocoa, Keating’s Cough Lozenges, Manfield’s Patent Pickles, and various more
Credit: Georgie Moore

Here are three of the tweet ideas that didn’t make the cut in December (and why not):

1. A Christmas Carol is a festive favourite for many, but Charles Dickens also contributed other seasonal stories to volumes like Mugby Junction: the extra Christmas number of All the year round (Vet.Engl.76). The small font and lack of illustrations aren’t very eye-catching for a Twitter photograph, but these advertisements provide a wintery window into Victorian buying habits: juvenile gift books, patented pickles and miniature billiards. (see left)

A passage from the mock-sermon
Credit: Dominic Hewett

2. ‘The Exaltation of Christmas Pye’ – this might be cheating, but the only reason I haven’t shared this is because I didn’t find it! There are some highly quotable moments in this 17th-century mock-sermon (HB4/3.a.5.8(23)) such as when the author elevates the invention of

Christmas plum pies to the same level as ‘Guns and Printing’.

An illustration from a medieval manuscript, depicting a hooded figure emerging from a vivid blue and brown plant, on a background of twisting vines and flowers
Credit: Georgie Moore

3. The Psalter (MS 82) includes some beautiful medieval illustrations. I’d wanted to caption this ‘When the waiter brings the final bill to the table after the work Christmas do’ but given the cancellation of so many Christmas parties this festive season, that felt like rubbing salt in the wound. (see left)


The angel on top of the tree, knitted with white wool and gold embellishmentsJosie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library

Although I enjoy handling books as much as the next librarian, a surprising highlight for me has been working with various forms of online resource provision. (This is perhaps less surprising to anyone who has had to listen to me talk about scanning recently). From tracking down resources for reading lists and LibGuides to navigating copyright restrictions and exploring the UK Web Archive, I’ve really enjoyed my traineeship so far, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved with certain areas in the new year. During a recent weekend shift, I was entrusted with decorating the LawBod Christmas tree – pictured is our resident angel, which I’m told was handmade by a previous trainee.


Sophie Lay, English Faculty Library

J. R. R. Tolkien and Nevill Coghill have donned now their gay apparel – the former in a classic Santa hat and the latter in a crown of golden holly tinsel – and the festive season has fully hit the English Faculty Library. As Graduate Trainee, it’s my job to decorate the library with the aforementioned festive headgear, as well as paper chains, miniature Christmas trees, and seasonal rubber ducks to join our regular desk companion, Bill Shakespeare.

The end of term has also left a little more time for reflection on the past few months. I’d be delighted to share with you just one of the parts of my job that I’ve enjoyed the most since starting here at Bodleian Libraries. A page from a facsimile of Dicken’s manuscript, with his own edits and recognisable signatureA page from a facsimile of Dicken’s manuscript, with his own edits and recognisable signatureNot to be incredibly corny, but interactions with readers really do add a delightful element to your average desk-shift. From friendly and familiar faces to unexpected compliments to charming lost-and-found items (including returning a child’s hand-written note which read ‘momy I luv yoo’), there is so much joy to be had in interacting with readers.

I’ll leave you off with a final festive treat. I’ve done some digging through the rare book room and have uncovered a little treasure. While it’s not the genuine article, we do have a delightful facsimile of Dicken’s original manuscript for A Christmas Carol, in his own handwriting and with his own edits – including his signature looping and cross-hatching. Just holding it makes me feel more festive!


Emily Main, History Faculty Library

Barriers lining the path to the Radcliffe Camera reader entrance, with a crane and Warner Brothers van in the backgroundThe end of term was definitely noticeable in the library as students started heading home for their holidays. However, the arrival of Warner Brothers and the closure of the Upper Camera for filming has made for an interesting end before the Christmas closure. As well as being dazzled by extremely bright lights when sitting at reception and dodging crowds of fans, we’ve had to implement a book fetching service for books in the Upper Camera and trundle our BSF book crates on a circuitous route through the Old Bod and Gladstone Link! I have loved getting to know the trainees and the team here and enjoyed the variety of my role. A highlight of the role for me has been answering enquiries of readers that require me to dive into a search and investigate their question, for example, in helping them to locate primary resources.


Ben Elliott, Pembroke College LibraryThe Old Quad in a little snow

Christmas is here, and it is time to reflect. This term has flown by, but it’s been a good one. Pembroke’s library consists of the librarian, me and the archivist and because it is a small team it has meant my traineeship has been distinctly unique and varied. For instance, I have delivered a library induction to visiting fellows from Pembroke’s ‘The Changing Character of War Centre’ which involved talking to a room of senior military officers and a UN advisor… definitely not daunting at all! As well, I have met some truly fascinating and brilliantly eccentric individuals along the way, some even coming as far as from Utah.

The Christmas tree standing sentry next to the entrance of the ChapelIt’s been particularly fun getting acquainted with Pembroke’s special collections, rare books and art collection and sharing them with students through object sessions and talks… especially when a talk discusses a naturalist’s book in our collection which attempts to convince readers that the platypus is, in fact, a real animal despite it looking odd!

Working with the college art has been brilliant. Inspecting the conditions of the college oil paintings with a freelance art conservator and the college archivist was a highlight. Staring at a painting of a 19th-century fellow whilst listening to ghost stories of said fellow is a moment I never expected in this job, but an enjoyable surprise, nonetheless.


Juliet Brown, Old Bodleian Library

A view of the Old School Quadrangle Christmas tree, in front of the entrance to the Library, above which is the window to Duke Humfrey'sAs the year draws to a close, it is nice to see everyone getting excited about the holiday season. The decorations have gone up in the Bod, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Old School Quadrangle Christmas tree in pride of place.

Four bookshelves, with a small Christmas tree placed on the third shelf

As everyone gets ready to head home for the holidays, it is also a nice time to reflect on my first few months at the Old Bod, and the experiences that have shaped my role as the trainee in this incredible building. I have been very lucky to work within an incredibly supportive team, who put up with my constant questions and have made me feel at home in my new role. As the Old Bod trainee, I have been very fortunate in having an extremely varied working schedule. From duties in reader services (answering enquiries, issuing and returning books, leading tours, shelving, assisting with book deliveries, completing book scans), through to the more technical aspects of the role (helping with interlibrary loans, book processing, preparing books for repair, relabelling), my role has allowed me to complete an extremely diverse range of tasks. In addition, my manager has been keen for me to take on my own responsibilities, which have included designing new posters for the Lower Gladstone Link, creating instructional sheets for the evening team and rehoming a cupboard of abandoned books.

A highlight of the traineeship is the opportunity to take part in sessions designed to expand our knowledge about the various areas that make up librarianship. We have learnt about the technical skills needed for cataloguing, the complex world of Open Access, the importance of social media skills, and discovered the digital tools available to students and researchers at the University. In addition, the traineeship has allowed us to visit the Weston (for an insight into the role of the conservation team and special collections) and even spent an afternoon at the BSF.

I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings, both in terms of training and with my role, after a very restful break at home with my family, dog and lots of good food.

Rebecca Wray, Social Science Library

Hello my name is Rebecca and I’m one of the new trainees at the Social Science Library (SSL). This is only my third week on the job as I joined the scheme a bit later than everyone else because sadly, another trainee had to leave the scheme. I’m from Bath originally and I graduated from Oxford Brookes University in Psychology in June. Before starting at the SSL I had been working in the Oxford Brookes libraries as a Communication Intern.

Bodleian Social Science Library

The Bodleian Social Science Library

You could say that choosing librarianship has a genetic factor in my case. My Mum is a Librarian and her parents met at library school in Birmingham.  But I didn’t seriously consider the career until the realisation at university that I had become the go-to person in my circle of friends for finding obscure journal articles and referencing questions. Through various jobs at university I’d always liked helping people so working in libraries seemed like a good choice (much to the delight/horror of my Mum!).

My first two weeks in the SSL have been quite intense, with lots of training to catch up on.  The SSL is a very busy library that offers a lot of services to readers so most of the training so far has been getting me set up to work on the issue desk. Thankfully as its the vacation period at the moment my first few stints have been fairly gentle!

Other than working on the Issue Desk myself and the other lovely SSL trainee Ceri deal with other Reader Services (front of house) type tasks like answering emails, dealing with books that have been returned to the wrong library, looking after the library’s social media accounts and hunting down missing books. After Christmas I’ll be trained on the Technical Services side of things, like repairing and processing books.

Last week we also had the added challenge of putting Christmas decorations up in and around the library.  The garland mysteriously got quite a lot of attention on Twitter!

The (slightly wonky) SSL Christmas garland

So far it’s been a little bit overwhelming as there are lots of new things to learn but I’m really enjoying it. I am looking forward to things getting more familiar though, so I don’t have to bombard Ceri with so many questions!

Bodleian Libraries’ Lessons and Carols

Bodleian Libraries' Lessons and Carols, 16/12/10Trainees doing extra-curricular things!  In this blurry image, you can just about make out me on the far left and Emma on the far right, singing at the very well-attended carol service in the Divinity School on 16th December 2010.  (We were invited to dress festively!)

Some of the carols are up on YouTube, including this one, written by the Bodleian’s Paul Nash.

Festive Fun at the Law Bod

A couple of weeks ago at the start of December, Helen and I were given the very important task of decorating the library for Christmas.  The beginning of December normally seems extremely early for Christmas decorations and is usually the time reserve for those eager Christmas obsessives however the very short terms at Oxford mean that Christmas must start at the end of November.   We put up a Christmas tree in the main reading room and a colleague of ours, Ron was in charge of putting up the festive CD decorations.

Excuse the silly poses, we were getting into the festive spirit and feeling overcome with joy thanks to a tinsel filled afternoon.

So that’s the Bodleian Law Library decorated for Christmas.  It’s nice to make the library look a bit festive around this time of year and decorating it early in time for 8th week was a good way of keeping those spirits up in the hectic close of term.   We ran a guess how many decorations on the Christmas tree competition with great success and lots of entries were received.  I had the fun task of counting the decorations as we put them up on the tree, numbers are not my strong point but I managed to keep track somehow.  In case you’re wondering, there were 42 decorations on our tree this year!  To make Christmas at the library even more of an event we held a shelf slip raffle at the end of 8th week. What’s a shelf slip raffle I hear you ask? Well everyone who is good enough to use a shelf slip to indicate that they’ve taken a book from a shelf was entered into a prize draw.  Shelf slips were collected and placed in a box, then drawn out and the winning names received some Amazon vouchers!

It certainly makes the library seem like a more festive place this close to Christmas and our readers seem to like the tree.  We are interested to hear festive tales from other Oxford libraries so feel free to share your thoughts.

Happy Christmas from Team Law ( aka Helen and Laura!)