Visits to College Archives

Over the last few weeks myself, Sean and Emma have visited a number of college Archives and had a good nose around. The main aim of the visits was to experience how other archives operate and how they compare to our Archives. There were some big differences and similarities between the college archives themselves, and the University Archives. Below I have given a brief summery of the College Archives.

At Oriel College the Archivist, Rob Petre, is given the same status as the head Librarian and has a good working relationship with the Library staff, the administrative staff and the Bursar. Oriel Archives hold some very precious records (with a high monetary value if the College ever finds itself short of funds!) and documents which prove the College owns land, has certain rights and holds evidence of other legal precedents. The storage room at Oriel was purpose built a few years ago and is temperature and humidity controlled and well as only accessible when either the Archivist or Head Librarian is present. Student records are well maintained.

Keble College has not yet seen the importance of maintaining a comprehensive Archive. Unlike Oriel (and many of the other colleges) Keble has extremely patchy modern student records (1970-90’s). When these modern records were destroyed the Archivist (the only trained record manager at the College!) was not consulted. As a result, many former students and future family historians are going to be very disappointed when they contact Keble College for information. The Archive has been placed within the Library and the Archivist (Rob Petre) has to report directly to the Head Librarian. The storage area for the whole of Keble Archives is 20 shelves (four bays). I think that shows how many important records Keble could be throwing away without thinking!

Merton College and Corpus Christi College, like OUA are based in an old stone tower. This is good on one hand because the records are protected from fire and flood, but not so good on the other as the temperature and humidity are hard to control – which usually also means bad for the Archivist as well as it is really cold! A quick insight into the misunderstanding of the role of an Archive by administrative staff can be seen in an example from Merton Archives. The Archivist at Merton (and Corpus), Julian Reid, was puzzled when he kept finding new records in draws that he had already been through and catalogued. This was until he realised that the administrative staff had a key to the Archive and were freely depositing new records and extracting old ones without any communication with him. This resulted in records being catalogued more than once, or not at all, and eventually would make the catalogue system unusable if it was not stopped. It also means the records, which often contain legal and confidential information, are not held securely. Julian will soon be moving to a new purpose built archive but unfortunately is still having trouble ensuring that he is the only member of staff with a key!

St John’s College, one of the richest colleges in Oxford, have just finished building a new library/gym/halls/archive extravaganza. This includes a state-of-the-art store room (with futuristic electronic moving stacks) and a purpose built reading room and office. Michael Riordan, the Archivist at St John’s, has been involved in the design and layout of the Archive, which has been fitted with fire and flood prevention systems. The concern of the Archive being near water pipes is especially important for Michael, as his old archive storage room at St John’s had two water pipes running overhead. These bust in the cold weather at the end of 2010, but luckily the College had taken out emergency insurance for the Archives, and the wet documents were quickly frozen and slowly dried in a vacuum meaning none were lost in the accident. The new reading room is also great for PR as College Archivist and Archives are often the only point of contact local and family historians (and general members of the public) have with the College.

The only thing that really stands out in my mind about Queens College Archives is that nothing is catalogued (where it is catalogued at all) to Archiving standards. If the Archivist (Michael Riordan again) stop coming into work tomorrow I think it would take his replacement years to fully understand the records they were in charge of! And there is no space for new records (student files are currently piling up in Michael’s office making the task of cataloguing the collections even more difficult!) A new Library, with a specific area for the Archives has been promised, but Michael and the Library staff are still waiting.

So there is a brief introduction to the college Archives I’ve visited. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Library Day in the Life – Corpus Christi College Library

I’m the Graduate Trainee at Corpus Library and since it is term-time  I am working 10 – 6.  In Vacation I work 9-5.  I had also meant to document a full week for the Library Day in the Life project, but this really is a pretty standard day for me, it was yesterday Thursday 27th January.    I spent this morning’s tea break checking spellings and making sure I hadn’t forgotten anything!

9.00am After forty-five minutes worth of pottering around after my other half has left the house, I eventually leave too, and walk the 5 minutes down the hill to Didcot station.  No tomfoolery on the railways this morning so I should be in Oxford nice and promptly.  Sometimes starting at 10 is no bad thing.

9.45am It’s freezing today (is that sleet?!) and I’ve basically been blown to work. Arrive at Corpus, check the Lodge for any post that might have arrived since 9am.  There’s none.

9.50am Wait for my PC (and fingers!) to warm up catch up with the Librarian who is at her desk in the office.

10am I start work!  First I shelve the books that have been cleared from the library that morning  by the Assistant Librarian and the Librarian.  Clearing is done every morning at 9am and entails emptying the bookbin (for after hours returns) and clearing desks of books that have not been left under a “please leave” slip.  These are designed for students to use up to 10 books in the library without checking them out and are valid for three days.  They can update the date on the slip as many times as they like, but if it falls out of date then we clear.

10.30am Today there was not much to do, thankfully! One day last week I was shelving until 11.40 *whimper*  I shelve in the rolling stacks on the ground floor of the library.  These house books ranging from 000 – 699.  I hate heavy Chemistry text books!  I also shelve on the first floor in the English room, which involves less bulk but more high shelves and ladder climbing.  Dickens enjoys probably the best view in the whole library. I return to the library office and check my emails.  I then display some flyers for WISER courses in the Catalogue room.

10.45am I relieve the Assistant Librarian of the issue desk so she can have her coffee break.  It’s quiet in the library this morning. A college lecturer comes in to look for a book that is seemingly available on OLIS but is not on the shelves where it should be.  I take a note of the book, its shelfmark and her name and tell her we will contact her when it re-surfaces.  I let the Assistant Librarian know and she shows me a spreadsheet to fill in with any books that might be missing.  We’re confident that somebody is probably just using it elsewhere in the library.

11.05am I return to the office and put the kettle on for my tea break.  I discuss some upcoming training with the Librarian.  It is training that the other Oxford Library trainees all undertook in two solid days at the start of the year, but because I started later I have it spread over three mornings in Week 3.  It’ll be alright.

11.25am After tea, I pop over to the college office to pick up some paper for our photocopier and printer from the College Secretary.  Upon returning to the library office I can hear that organ practice has begun.  Corpus library is next to the college chapel and when you are working at the issue desk you can look through the window right down onto the organ.  In the office all you can really hear is a reassuring hum from the pipes.  I resume email checking, but there is nothing new and I start planning a re-jig of the catalogue room notice board.  I will need to make up some new posters and update some existing ones but I can’t get to the board at the moment as it is above the public computers and they are all occupied.  It will have to wait until tomorrow morning.  I process a couple of journals instead and take them downstairs to shelve.

11.50am I am reminded that there is a growing pile of books to cover in protective wrapping, so I make a start.  These books are normally gifts or donations, as most of our new books are delivered covered and triggered already.  It’s interesting seeing the books that people (mainly Fellows and Old Members) donate to the library for use.  One of the previous Trainees here donated a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  I was heartened when I found it as it appears to be the most loved book in the library!  Apparently it was on a display for browsing while waiting for a spare computer or the photocopier and proved really popular with those waiting!

1.00pm I finish covering the books just in time for lunch, hurrah!  After I’ve eaten, I return to the office, which is nice and cosy because the door is closed now, and carry on reading Brighton Rock.  I’d like to finish it before seeing the new film but we’ll see!

2.00pm I spend afternoons on the issue desk.  This means I am able to answer enquiries, fix the photocopier (grr) and fetch books as well as getting on with any other work on my to do list.

2.10pm Contact maintenance about a flashing strip light in one of the Old Library bays.

2.15pm Currently I am working on updating an existing document that lists all the journals Corpus has in its holdings.  This is for easy reference for library users and lives downstairs.  We are really trying to encourage people to use the excellent online facilities, SOLO and OxLIP+ , where they can access Oxford University’s broad collection of material.  We have cancelled several subscriptions this year as well so I need to make up shelf notices to alert readers to this and let them know that they can find them all online.  I need to cross check each journal on this list with the record on OLIS to make sure I have noted to exactly which volume we stock for each one.  For ongoing subscriptions this is easy, I put v.1 [for example] – current.

3.00pm I process some books out on the issue desk ready to take back to the Librarian to check and put out in the New Books Display.

3.45pm Afternoon tea break.  This time all three of us have tea together in the office.  It’s been quiet and thanks to our CCTV we can see if anyone comes looking for us at the desk or sets off the security alarm.

4.10pm I continue to work on the journals list document, while keeping an eye on my emails for enquiries from any readers. I also complete the pricing of an English reading list for the Assistant Librarian.  She emails me to tell me there are one more each for Politics and Economics to check over the term as well.

5.15pm The Assistant Librarian and Librarian go home.

5.45pm I start to jot down some notes of what I’ve been up to today.  I will type it all up tonight and post it tomorrow morning.

6.00pm I shut up the issue desk and open the bookbin.  Turn off the printer and heater in the office, lock up, wrap up warm and head out into the night.   Not forgetting to take the cash box over to the Lodge on my way out for the evening invigilators first.

Hilary Murray, Corpus Christi College Library

Hi, I’m Hilary and I’m the Graduate Trainee at Corpus Christi College.  As a relative late-comer to the Trainee scheme, I started at Corpus in early November right in the toothy centre of Michaelmas term.   I am taking the turning of the New Year to introduce my role at Corpus, as 2011 should be quite an exciting year for the college.

I graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a degree in English Literature in 2007 and have since had a series of jobs in administration, in Yorkshire where I grew up, and in Oxford where I moved in 2009.  Before coming to Corpus I had no full-time library experience but I enjoyed a stint of volunteering over the last summer vacation at the Bodleian Education Library in tandem with my previous full time job.  So, it was a real adventure starting at Corpus Library in the middle of term, but definitely an enjoyable and challenging one!

My daily routine centres around shelving, book processing and spending afternoons (in term-time) manning the issue desk as well as picking up any other miscellaneous tasks that come my way.  I really enjoy being part of the small team here (there are only three of us) as the Trainee is an integral member whose work impacts that of the Librarian and Assistant Librarian, and vice-versa.   Although chilly in winter, the library is a beautiful place to work and you really do get to know the readers.   During my time here in Oxford I intend to poke around as many of the other libraries as I can while I have a hallowed Bod card!

As I mentioned above, 2011 should be an exciting year for the college as it prepares to give a series of special lectures through Hilary Term on the King James Bible, which celebrates 400 years this year and some translation of which took place at Corpus.  The college will also work with the Bodleian on an upcoming exhibition and I am looking forward to hopefully being able to assist with preparations.  After this year at Corpus I hope to earn my librarian stripes at library school – I’ll soon be making my applications and knuckling down to some serious form-filling.

Laurel Burn, Corpus Christi College Library

LaurelHi, I’m Laurel and I’m the trainee at Corpus Christi College Library. I came to Corpus straight after completing my degree in English Literature at Cardiff University. Before working at Corpus, I had done a little work experience in the main public library in Cardiff and before my degree I worked voluntarily for a year in a museum library in Dorset.

I am enjoying shelving, particularly with an organ, piano or singing in the background (the library is adjacent to the college chapel). I spend every afternoon on the issue desk helping readers. I also process new books and journals. Corpus is quite a small library which means I have a sense of the whole library and not just one part. There are only three of us in the team (the Librarian, the Assistant Librarian and the trainee) so I feel I have a real role to play in the running of the Library.

I am looking forward to undertaking a project after Christmas, as well as the chance to visit other libraries in Oxford and elsewhere.

I am currently deciding whether to study for an masters in Librarianship next year, and I think the Oxford traineeship is a really good way of gaining the experience with which to make such a decision.