Library Provision During a Pandemic: A Day in the Life at Christ Church (Michaelmas 2020)

8am: Arrive at the library and wash my hands! Since we are a lending library (unlike the Law Library and Old Bodleian), I come in an hour before we open so I can shelve the previous day’s returns and start gathering Click and Collect requests before the students arrive. This is because our bookshelves are in close proximity to the study desks, and it becomes much more difficult to navigate around students for books while maintaining a 2m distance once it starts filling up.

The previous night’s library clerk will hopefully have arranged the books on our returns trolley in sequential order so I just have to run them back in through the self-issue machine. This is the first substantial adjustment we’ve had to introduce because of the virus – instead of returning books themselves, readers must leave their loans with us to be quarantined overnight before I return them the following morning. I then separate the returns according to their location (e.g. East or West Library, Upper Library or the Orangery). At this point, I usually log into the library inbox, open the Aleph report for Click and Collect requests, organise the shelfmarks to my liking and then print them out so that I can collect students’ requests and re-shelve returns simultaneously.

While moving around the library to shelve, I’ll also complete any outstanding tasks as I encounter them, for instance replacing the daily track and trace form, checking that the Upper Library is unlocked and de-alarmed for student arrivals at 9, and removing any student belongings that have been left overnight.

 

9-10.30: Once I’ve fetched the day’s first batch of Click and Collect requests, I spend the morning at the enquiry desk. Students start filing in from 9 and I answer any questions they may have while issuing out their requests and notifying each reader via email that their loans are ready for collection – a lengthy process, and one that is unique to pandemic times. I also remove any uncollected requests from previous days (we retain books for 24 hours only) and make a note of repeat offenders so I can see if they need another nudge, or extra assistance with getting books – occasionally these have not been collected because the student in question is self-isolating.

Then I’ll work through our inbox and answer emails, making note of quarantine deliveries and chapter scan requests. Our wonderful senior library assistant and the colleague I work with most closely, Georgie, will also check in with me to see what our plan for the day is, and leave book post with me to unwrap and print invoices for the new arrivals.

 

10.30-11: Coffee break!

 

11-12: Back on the enquiry desk, I spend this time processing and issuing out new books that have been recommended for purchase by students. We are fortunate to have a generous book budget so there is always a huge pile of books in various stages of processing that need covering, adding to Aleph and so forth.

Students can also request books they need by simply coming to the enquiry desk and asking, so I usually spend some time fetching and loaning out books on demand. This feels more personal than the Click and Collect service and sometimes leads to interesting conversations about students’ research. I believe that I have gotten to know our students more quickly and comprehensively this year than I otherwise would have since I’m now (perhaps to their chagrin) an intermediary figure between them and their reading.

If it is a quiet morning, I also do a little work on our reclassification project. We are moving towards Library of Congress, however a significant amount of our collections are still classified via our Roman numerals in-house system. I’ll grab 20 or so books from the Classics section (currently IX), switch them over to LoC on Aleph, print new shelfmark labels and shift them over to their new home in the PA’s in the West library.

 

12-1: Lunch! The librarians at colleges get free lunch and I take full advantage of this. We are big fans of the bread rolls.

 

1-2: More enquiry desk, more processing, more emails.

 

2-3.15: Georgie takes over the desk, so I am free to complete my tasks outside the library building. Throughout Michaelmas, my afternoons were dedicated to following through on delivering books to self-isolating students – mostly within college grounds, although I have also cycled to an accommodation site in Cowley for a book delivery. I’ll also swing by the lodge for more parcels, boxes and post, and fetch the more obscure books (usually requested by fellows) from our off-site locations.

 

3.15-4: The second Click and Collect report arrives, so I do another round of fetching and issuing books. Georgie and I might brainstorm a tweet for the library account, I’ll spend several minutes lamenting that we don’t have library cats like St. Hugh’s (the cornerstone of any truly decent social media presence), and finish my work day at 4pm.