The English Faculty Library (EFL) primarily serves all those reading and teaching English at Oxford, as well as other readers requiring access to its collections. It offers borrowing services, IT and printing facilities and a variety of workspaces. It is part of the Bodleian Libraries.
Hello, I’m Leah, this year’s trainee at the English Faculty Library (or EFL for short)! Though the EFL might not have the aesthetic that springs to mind when someone mentions Oxford (it is a vision of ‘60s brutalist architecture after all) our collections are no less strong than our comrades across the university libraries at large. We even have our own rare books room where readers can consult from our collections of pre-1850s volumes – although personally I would say our best kept secret is the Turville-Petre Room where our Old Norse-Icelandic collections are held.
Prior to the traineeship, I didn’t have a background in librarianship at all. I had studied English Literature for my bachelor’s degree at the University of East Anglia and knew I wanted to work with books in some capacity, but wasn’t sure where to direct my search. I then pivoted to Medieval Studies at the University of Birmingham for my master’s degree, with a focus on depictions of language and multilingualism in insular texts. The opportunity to work with manuscripts and other ephemera during my master’s, including at the Weston Library, put the idea in my head to look into working with special collections, and the rest is history.
During my first month, it has very much been a case of getting the fundamentals in place before the students arrive back in Oxford en masse. This means learning how to process books, staffing our enquiries desk, and getting to grips with Alma, our new-to-everyone library system. We do, however, have the option to get a bit creative too. One thing I really enjoy about the EFL is that we have the ability to put on displays for our readers: in the past trainees have covered everything from Mid-Winter Ghosts to Fantasy Fiction. I’m hoping my display on indigenous literature will be up within the next week or so, so do feel free to pop by and have look!
In the coming months, I’m most looking forward to our introduction to special collections and conservation (of course), as well as our visit to the Collections Storage Facility near Swindon. In the long-term, I am hoping to learn more about academic librarianship, as well as whether working with collections as a librarian is a viable career path for me. The training scheme so far has been excellent, and I can’t wait to see what this year will bring!
As a final goodbye from the Trainees of the year 22-23 we thought we’d share with you a look at some of the trainee projects which were presented at the showcase this year! These descriptions, each written by another trainee who viewed the original presentation, are designed to give you a flavour of what our year with the Bodleian and College libraries have been like.
Jenna Ilett: Creating an interactive map of the Nizami Ganjavi Library
By Alice S
Kicking off our Trainee showcase with a bang, Jenna’s presentation hit all the right buttons. With an amusing title and appropriately themed presentation, Jenna talked us through the ins and outs of coding an interactive map, complete with hoverable shelfmark labels!
The inspiration for this project came from a slew of wayfinding projects that have been taking place across the ‘Section 3’ Libraries (which include the Taylor, The Art Archelogy and Ancient World and the Nizami Ganjavi libraries) as well as Jenna’s own background in tech thanks to a GCSE in Computer Science and a module in Web Design during her undergraduate degree.
Using Inkscape, Jenna made the underlying vector graphic for the map itself, working off a previous design, but keeping the styling consistent with maps currently available at the AAAW Library. She used the feedback she received to refine her design before moving on to the coding itself.
Remaining humble throughout, Jenna also treated us to an inside look at her thought processes in the form of increasingly anxious WhatsApp messages she had sent about her project to friends and colleagues, as well as a demonstration of a particular bug that caused her map to flip itself over when zoomed out, both of which earned a hearty chuckle from the audience. But with the amount of skilled work Jenna has put in already, the audience and I are in no doubt that Jenna will soon have the kinks worked out, and the Nizami Ganjavi Library will have a swanky new interactive map!
The most interesting thing I learnt from Jenna’s presentation would probably have to be the benefits of scalable vector graphics. As someone who has all too often fallen foul of the perils of trying to resize images only to be left with a grainy and illegible mess, it’s great to know that using a vector graphic will allow me to scale an image to any size my heart could desire. Through the magic of mathematical graphing it preserves the shape and position of a line so that it can be viewed at any scale. Thanks to Jenna for a fabulous presentation and enlightening me to the wonders of vector graphics!
Alice Zamboni: Audio-visual archive of former Prime Minister Edward Heath
The second presentation of the day came from Alice Zamboni, one of the two Digital Archivist trainees based for two years with the Special Collections team at the Weston Library. Alice’s project was concerned with adding the audio-visual material donated by former Conservative Prime Minister Edward (Ted) Heath to our catalogue.
As with most of his predecessors and successors in the role of Prime Minister since the Second World War, Ted Heath began his political involvement at Oxford, studying PPE at Balliol College and winning the Presidency of the Oxford Union in 1937. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Bodleian chose to purchase his personal archive in 2011 to add to its collection. Covering mainly the period from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, Alice related how many of the cassettes and tape reels held information on music and yacht racing connected to the love of European culture which inspired Heath’s drive – and eventual success – to gain admission for the UK in the European Community in 1973.
Most of the material was held in analogue formats so Alice’s first step before cataloguing was to convert them into digital MP3 files. Then, one of the main challenges she faced was that the sheer scale of the material (481 tapes some up to ninety minutes long) meant that not every recording could be listened to in its entirety. An educated assessment on the contents, and how it should be catalogued, had to be made from listening to a portion of each. This allowed some of the material, such as recordings made from radio programmes, to be weeded out of the collection.
Perhaps the most interested thing I learned from Alice’s talk was the broad scope of Heath’s recordings, including some in foreign languages. One interestingly was in Mandarin Chinese, and of a children’s programme on learning languages.
As with most of the trainee projects, there is always more to be done after the showcase and Alice’s next main step is to place the original tapes back into boxes according to how she has catalogued them. An even longer-term plan for ensuring that the archive can be opened to researchers is acquiring the rights for many tapes recorded from musical recitals, for instance, where the copyright is owned by the composer or conductor rather than Heath himself.
Miranda Scarlata: Web archiving and the invasion of Ukraine.
Although the phrase ‘once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever,’ is common, Miranda’s talk highlighted the ephemeral and volatile nature of websites, and the importance of capturing and preserving information from these sites.
Although it would be impossible to capture every single website in existence, there are times when the digital archivists undertake a rapid response project – for example capturing information on Covid-19, or the ongoing war in Ukraine – the latter being the focus of Miranda’s talk.
Soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine (on the 24th of January 2022), the Digital Archivist team launched a rapid response project to preserve information regarding Ukrainian life and culture, as well as the war itself, which was at risk of being lost. A campaign was launched that asked people to nominate websites that fit certain criteria.
Miranda discussed some of the challenges involved in a project like this. Although 53 sites were nominated, only 21 were deemed viable. Twitter accounts of Ukrainian citizens were also included, and additional news, cultural and war specific sites were crawled, leading to a total of 72 sites. There is a limit on how many sites can be preserved due to the strict data budget, which means that difficult decisions had to be made about what to prioritise. Another added level of complexity was the limited Ukrainian and Russian language skills within the department, which made it difficult to determine types of content and assign metadata tags.
The normal processes when archiving websites involves contacting site owners to obtain permission before beginning the capturing process, but due to the high risk of information loss, site owners were contacted after capturing the sites to gain permission for publication. With the help of a Ukrainian and Russian speaking intern, site owners were contacted, but there was an understandable lack of response given that many of the site owners would have been directly impacted by the war.
Miranda’s talk was a fascinating insight into the world of digital archiving and the challenges within, particularly with the more arduous and intricate rapid response projects, which are hugely important when it comes to capturing important events as they are happening.
The most interesting thing I learnt was that digital archiving involves capturing a functional version of the site that could continue to exist even if the original host site was removed, rather than a static capture, which leads to added complexity when it comes to external links and embedded content.
Caitlín Kane: Maleficia: Curating a public exhibition at New College Library
By Alice Z
In her talk on the exhibition that she undertook as her trainee project, Caitlín focused on her experience of organising and curating the exhibition of rare books and manuscripts from the collection at New College. A chance encounter with the New College copy of Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), a well-known 15th century treatise about witchcraft, sparked in Caitlin the idea of organising a display of special collections about magic, witchcraft, and astrology.
The promotional material devised by Caitlín to advertise the exhibition on social media and in print was what stood out most for its originality and it is clearly something that contributed to making the exhibition a success in terms of visitor numbers. I think the most interesting thing I learned from her talk was how you can create moving graphics using services such as Canva and how these can be used on social media to promote events such as exhibitions.
Caitlín reflected on some of the logistical challenges of organising this kind of collection-focused public engagement event, such as the selection of material and collection interpretation. For one thing, identifying relevant material from New College’s collection of manuscripts was more difficult in the absence of an online catalogue. Without the benefits of a neatly catalogued SOLO record to guide her, she was required to rely on previous staff members’ handlists as well as serendipitous browsing of New College’s rare books shelves.
Another aspect of the exhibition she touched upon was the interpretation of the materials. It was important for the labels accompanying the items on display to strike the right balance between content and context. Providing insights into the objects themselves was key, especially as many were texts written in Latin, but so was giving visitors enough background on the early modern philosophical and theological debates underpinning witchcraft.
Caitlin’s work clearly resulted in a fascinating and well-attended exhibition, and she was able to make great advances in increasing awareness of some of the amazing collections held by her library.
Abby Evans: Professor Napier and the English Faculty Library
Abby’s trainee project concerned a fascinating collection of dissertations and offprints gathered by Professor Arthur Napier, a philologist and Professor at Merton College in 1885. Held by the English faculty library, this collection consists of 92 boxes
containing 1058 items that needed to be reassessed ahead of the library’s move to the new Schwarzman centre for the Humanities in 2025.
Her project showcased the speedy decisions and minute details that must be considered when working at a library as she had only two weeks to determine the content of the collection and assess what material was worthy of making the move to the new building. The process required lots of skimming through documents to understand their content, the deciphering of previous systems from librarians past, and a strong head for organisation!
The collection itself was also able to provide some insight into how the English Faculty used to operate. Many of the materials were annotated with small markings and references to an older organization involving different box numbers and labels.
The collection also surprisingly held works from female authors – a rarity for the time – but their work was clearly well-enough regarded that Professor Napier saw the benefit in collecting and preserving it in his collection.
The most interesting insight the Napier collection provided however is perhaps its demonstration of the of the workings of Royal Mail years gone by. The collection contained several items which bore evidence of travelling through the UK postal system, some which were simply folded up with the address written on the back – no envelope required! Additionally, a simple name and general neighbourhood were enough to get the letter to its intended location, postcodes clearly had yet to hit it off!
Overall, Abby’s talk demonstrated the myriad of small and large details that must be considered when continually maintaining library collections. And the efficiency with which she was able to work through the collection is an example to us all!
Morgan Ashby-Crane: Making Collections More Visible: Displays and Data Cleanup
At the SSL, Morgan embarked on a mission to improve the visibility of collections, both in making items easier to locate within the library system, and in highlighting diverse voices in the collections.
During awareness months throughout the year they curated book displays which allowed them to improve the circulation and physical accessibility of collections such as those for Black and LGBTQ+ History. For Black History Month, they asked subject librarians to recommend a book with an accompanying caption. Morgan then curated the display, and added QR codes linked to e-resources that the subject librarians recommended. They then collated these into a post on the SSL blog to reach those who couldn’t access the display physically.
For LGBT+ History month, Morgan organised another pop-up display, but this time the focus was on recommendations from readers in previous years. One of the most interesting ideas I gleaned from Morgan’s presentation was their approach in designing new recommendation slips for readers to fill in and recommend their own books to make sure the displays stayed relevant to reader interests. As books were borrowed and recommendation slips filled in, Morgan was able to track the circulation of items and provide evidence of engagement.
Another way in which Morgan improved accessibility to the collections was in cleaning up data on Aleph, our old library system. Over the past few months, the trainees have been busy helping our libraries prepare for the changeover to a new library system, Alma. With thousands of records being transferred across, a lot of data clean-up has been required to make sure records display correctly in the new system.
Some outdated process statuses, such as AM (Apply Staff – Music), can be left attached to records long after they fall out of use. Other books, that are on the shelves to be loaned, can be left marked as BD (At bindery). To single out any irregularities, Morgan made a collection code report to see if any items stood out as unusual. When items appeared under unusual process statuses, Morgan investigated them further to see if their statuses needed changing.
Similarly, some items without shelfmarks had slipped under the radar, and Morgan set about adding them back to the books’ holdings records. They worked backwards from potential Library of Congress classifications to figure out where the books might be on the shelves and, once they’d identified the physical shelfmark, restored it to the item’s holdings record. These data cleanup tasks will make it easier both for readers in locating the items they need and will help the collections transition smoothly from Aleph to Alma.
Ruth Holliday: Investigating the Christ Church Library Donors: Research and rabbit holes
For her presentation, Ruth discussed her project to research donors to Christ Church’s ‘New Library’, with a particular focus on their links to slavery. The incongruously named New Library was constructed between 1717 and 1772, and over 300 benefactors contributed to the project! Given the time constraints involved, in this presentation Ruth chose to focus on just three:
The first donor Ruth spoke about was Noel Broxholme, a physician and an alumnus of Christ Church, who during his time there was one of the first recipients of the Radcliffe travelling fellowship. This was a grant established by Dr John Radcliffe (a rather omnipresent figure in Oxford) that required medical students to spend years studying medicine in a foreign country. Ruth was able to establish that at one time Doctor Broxholme was paid for his services not in cash, but instead in ‘Mississippi stock’. As one might be able to deduce from the name, this was effectively shares in companies who had strong ties to the slave trade.
The next donor Ruth discussed was George Smallridge, Bishop of Bristol. Again, we have a man whose profession is seemingly at odds with involvement in the trade of human lives. However, as part of his donation for the foundation of the new library he included two lottery tickets. One of the prize options for that lottery was South Sea Stock – more shares with ties to the slave trade. It has proven difficult to determine whether the tickets he donated were, in fact, winning tickets, or whether they were ever cashed in, but once again the foundation of this library has found itself fiscally linked to slavery.
The final donor to feature in Ruth’s presentation was Charles Doulgas, 3rd Duke of Queensbury, whose financial investments included shares in the British Linen Company. Whilst British linen does not ostensibly appear to have clear ties to slavery – being both grown and manufactured domestically by paid labour – there is in fact a significant connection. Whilst cotton was becoming the more popular fabric for textile production in the mid-late eighteenth century, the fabric was seen as too good to be used to clothe the people forced to grow it. As such, linen, in its cheapest and least comfortable format, was exported in droves to be used to clothe the slaves labouring on cotton plantations.
What all these donor case studies in Ruth’s fascinating presentation showed, and probably the most interesting thing I learned, was how enmeshed slavery was in the eighteenth-century economy. Whether in the form of shares received in lieu of payment, shares won as prizes, or as custom to the textile industry it was growing to dominate, Ruth’s project demonstrated that making money in the eighteenth century was almost inextricably tied to slavery.
Rose Zhang: As She Likes It: The Woman who Gatecrashed the Oxford Union
Rose’s project and subsequent presentation touched on a captivating aspect of the history of women at Oxford. As the trainee for the Oxford Union, she undertook some first-hand research on an unusual event in the early history of women’s involvement in the Union’s debates.
Rose first gave us a summary of the Union’s history. Set up in 1823 (and therefore currently celebrating their bicentenary), The Oxford Union has been famous (and infamous) for its dedication to free speech over the years. As women were only formally admitted to the University itself in 1920, it is unsurprising that they were also barred from entry to the Union debating society. This restriction against women members continued until well into the latter half of the 20th century, although rules had become laxer by this point, allowing women into the debating hall itself, but only in the upper galleries.
By the 1960s, there was increasing pressure from female students who wished to access the main floor of the debating hall, rather than be confined to the gallery, where they were expected to be silent, and could not get a good view of the proceedings. The pressure built to a point in 1961, when two students achieved national press coverage for their successful gate-crashing of the debating chamber, which they did in disguise as men!
Rose gave us a captivating account of the gatecrashing, using newspaper clippings from the time and information from one of the gatecrashes herself, Jenny Grove (now a published journalist), to really bring this moment of Oxford History to life. One of the most interesting things I learned from Rose’s presentation was how library projects can handle, preserve and communicate data that’s less discrete – which tied in well with our keynote talk from Phillip Roberts, especially focussed on how heritage organisations have a power to preserve and convey stories that otherwise might be suppressed or overlooked.
Thankfully, the actions of Jenny grove and her co-conspirator Rose Dugdale were successful in bringing wider attention to the issue, and within two years successive votes won women the right to be full and contributing union members.
Rose’s presentation on this project was interesting not just for such a fascinating bit of history, told with good humour, but also for how it differed to most trainee projects methodologically in using first-hand oral histories to bring context to her library and its collections.
Grace Exley: Creating online exhibitions
One of the later presentations in the day, Grace kept the energy flowing as she discussed her experience creating online exhibitions. The inspiration for Grace’s project was accessibility. While Jesus College puts on termly exhibitions in the Fellows’ Library, not everyone can make it on the day, and having some kind of record of past exhibitions would be beneficial to many.
Taking the initiative, Grace sought out training on how to curate and manage online exhibitions. She worked her way through a course which introduced her to the platform Omeka. Using Omeka, visitors can scroll through photos of the exhibition items and read captions for each one, making it both a great way to experience exhibitions that you cannot make it to physically, and a way of preserving physical exhibitions in a digital space.
With this new knowledge at her fingertips, Grace set out to organise her own exhibitions that she would subsequently upload to the Jesus College website using the Omeka platform. The books that featured in these exhibitions were selected by Grace from the Fellows’ Library at Jesus College – a stunning 17th century room that holds 11,500 early printed books.
Grace told us about the botany exhibition she curated in Michaelmas term, which featured a first-time find of an inscription in John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum. One of the most interesting things I learned from Grace’s presentation is that this is one of the very few books in the Fellows’ Library to have had its title page inscribed by a female owner, Elizabeth Burghess. From the style of the handwriting, we can tell that the signature is likely to have been penned near to the time of publication, though we don’t know for sure who Elizabeth Burghess was.
We were in a Jesus College lecture theatre for the showcase, and due to running ahead of our schedule we were able to sneak into the Fellows’ Library and look around. It’s a gorgeous space, and it was great to see where the exhibitions take place when they’re in 3D! If you’re interested, you can view Grace’s Botanical Books exhibition along with some of Jesus College’s other exhibitions on the website the Grace created here: Collections from the Fellows’ Library and Archives, at Jesus College Oxford (omeka.net)
Alice Shepherd: The Making of a Disability History LibGuide
A theme running through many of the trainee projects this year was accessibility, and Alice proved no exception. For her trainee project, she worked on creating a LibGuide on Disability History, to help people find resources relevant to researching that topic.
A LibGuide is an online collection of resources that aims to provide insights into a specific topic of interest. They are created across all Bodleian Libraries and often act as a launch pad for a particular subject to signpost readers to the plethora of resources available. The resources for Alice’s LibGuide were largely collated during a Hackathon event organised by the Bodleian Libraries team, during which 36 volunteers shared their expertise on Disability History and put together a list of over 231 relevant electronic resources on this topic.
Alice started by working through this long list of resources. She spent a considerable amount of time cleaning, screening, and processing the data collected at the Hackathon. Specifically, she removed website links that were no longer active, evaluated the quality of the materials, and carefully selected those that were most appropriate and relevant to the topic of Disability History.
With this newly complied ‘shortlist’ of scholarly resources, Alice then started putting them together on the LibGuide website, adapting the standardised Bodleian LibGuide template to better fit the needs of researchers by including resources grouped by date, topic, and format. With the resources carefully curated and added to the LibGuide, Alice put some finishing touches on the guide by doing her own research to fill in some of the gaps left after the Hackathon.
There will be a soft launch of the LibGuide in the Disability History month this year. Although this LibGuide is mainly created for students and scholars with research interests in Disability History, the LibGuide will be available to the public as a valuable educational resource.
Charlie Ough: Duke Humfrey’s Library Open Shelf Collections
As the trainee for the Bodleian Old Library, Charlie gets the tremendous pleasure of working in the Medieval precursor to Oxford’s centralised Bodleian libraries, Duke Humfrey’s Library.
Whilst the setting and atmosphere may be one of academic serenity, after a few months of working there, Charlie identified that something ought to be done to make the organisation of its Open Shelves Collection slightly less chaotic. He had found that books were difficult to locate, some were physically difficult to access, the shelf marks were confusing, and certain volumes from the collection were missing entirely.
With a plan in mind, the first task in addressing this issue was to create a comprehensive list of everything on the shelves. Part way through this venture, Charlie stumbled across a file hidden away in an archived shared folder from 2017 and discovered that a previous trainee had already make a handlist for Duke Humfrey’s. This saved lots of time and allowed him to focus on making improvements to this cache of information by slimming it down, rearranging it according to area, and dividing it into different sections.
During this time Chalrie also designed and conducted a reader survey that was distributed within Duke Humfrey’s to determine who the main users of the library are, and whether they were there to use the Open shelf books specifically, or more because they enjoyed using the space. With the results of that survey to sort through and analyse, Charlie now has a permanent position working at the Bodleian Old Library and intends to continue working with the Duke Humfrey’s Open Shelves Collection. His plans involve new shelf marks, updating the LibGuide, a complete stock check, and barcoding the collection.
The most interesting (and mildly terrifying) thing I learned from Charlie’s talk is that the population of cellar and common house spiders in the Duke Humfrey’s Library ceiling were intentionally introduced at the beginning of this century, to combat an infestation of deathwatch beetle that was burrowing into the wooden beams and panels. In fact, the spiders still thrive there to this day! Not something to think about when you’re peacefully studying in the picturesque Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room…
Most days I get to the library by 8.40am to start opening everything up. But as I get the train into Oxford (and even when not on strike, they’re not always the most punctual), it does vary quite a bit – it can be anywhere from 8.20am to 8.45am!
The first job of the day is to go around turning lights on, unlocking the computer room, and scooping up any books left on tables or trolleys for re-shelving. This is a nice job as the EFL is basically a circle, so there’s a satisfying ‘opening up’ loop starting and finishing at the office.
8.50 – 9.20 : Lapse list
With the library waking up, I make a start on the lapse list. This is the list of books from the Collections Storage Facility (CSF) which readers have finished with and are ready to be sent back. I check the list and pick the books off the self-collect shelf before we open the doors at 9am, just to make sure the books aren’t accidentally taken back into the reading room by eager readers! I then take the books into the office to scan and box them up in the blue totes we trainees talk so much about, and leave them downstairs ready for the van to collect this afternoon.
9.20 – 9.45 : Reading room shelf check
Once a week I also print a list of everything that’s supposed to be on the self-collect shelves and check everything is where it should be. As everyone starts ordering books for the start of term, it’s getting to be quite a long list! Fortunately, I’m yet to encounter a permanently-lost book, but there are a couple of reasons why a book that’s supposed to be on the shelf isn’t there. The most common reason is someone is using it in the library, which is why the first step in any book hunt is checking whether it’s magically come back after a couple of hours! Another possibility is that the book was sent back to the CSF without being scanned out properly, in which case it will be ‘found’ when it’s scanned by the offsite team. And although it’s rare, occasionally a reader will take home a book that’s meant to stay in the library. In these cases, a gentle email is all that’s needed to get the book returned safe and sound!
9.45 – 10.30 : Journals and periodicals
The next job for the morning is all things journals and periodicals. Although lots of journals are available online, we still get quite a few print journals delivered regularly to the library, and there are a couple of things I need to do.
The first job is to process any new journals that have arrived and get them out onto the shelves. Many titles trickle in slowly, published once a quarter or even once a year, but newspapers and reviews like Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books and New York Review of Books arrive weekly or fortnightly, so there’s always something new each week.
Processing new journals is a job I tend to do in batches, rather than as each arrives. There are a few waiting today, so I mark them as arrived on our spreadsheet and check them in on the Library Management System, Aleph. Then they’re stamped and stickered before I put them out on the new journals display. I swap the old ones for the newer arrivals and take the older ones to start their new lives on the main periodical shelves.
With the new journals dealt with, I go back to the spreadsheet and check whether we’ve received everything we’re expecting. Because of the pandemic many journals delayed their publication schedules and are still catching up, so knowing when to make a claim for a missing journal is more of an art than a science. There’s only one outstanding today, so I submit a claim to the publisher and mark the date on the spreadsheet.
The last journals job is to check if any titles have been used in the library. There’s a shelf in the office where journals that readers have used are placed before they’re re-shelved, and I use a spreadsheet to record which titles have been consulted. That way, when we’re looking for more shelf space, we can see which titles are popular and which ones perhaps aren’t used so much and could be stored offsite.
10.30 – 10.50 : Break time!
With the journals done, I put the kettle on and have a quick break. Usually I’d get my book out but one of my new year resolutions is to brush up my French, so I spend some quality time with Duolingo.
10.50 – 11.30 : Scanning (and a brief interruption)
Next up is scan requests. The Bodleian offers a ‘scan and deliver’ service through which readers can request one chapter or 5% of a book to be scanned and sent to them (the limits are set out in copyright law). Each library does it slightly differently, but at the EFL we’re each rota’d a couple of mornings or afternoons during the week to keep an eye on the scan requests, and this morning it’s my turn.
When a request comes in, I first check to make sure we can complete the scan – this means checking whether it’s allowed under copyright law and checking that the book is actually in the library! If everything’s ok then I collect the book off the shelf and have a quick flick through the requested chapter to make sure there aren’t any (or at least, not too many) scribblings and markings on it. Most of the time there aren’t any, but sometimes it looks like readers have written their entire essay in the margins! The book I’m scanning today thankfully doesn’t have any extra writing in it, so I take it to the PCAS (Print, Copy and Scan) machine to scan the chapter. With that done, it’s back to the computer for a little editing to make sure the scan is of a good quality, and then I send it off to the reader.
It depends a little on how long the chapter is, but usually it takes 20 or 30 minutes from opening a request to sending it to the reader. Today, however, I had a brief interruption as a reader wanted to use the Turville-Petre Room. Also known as the TP Room and/or the Icelandic Room, it’s not actually in the library itself but downstairs near the Faculty offices. To access it, readers hand in their card at the enquiry desk and receive a temporary access card in return. As this is the first time today that a reader has asked to use the room, I pop downstairs to unlock it for them before returning to the scanning.
11.30 : Count
I finish the scanning just in time to do a quick headcount of how many people are in the library. We do counts four times a day, to keep track of when our busiest periods are. The 11.30 count is always my job, so I get to have a walk around the library while trying to remember that readers find it a little off-putting if I count out loud!
11.35 – 12.30 : New books
Now on to one of my favourite jobs: processing the new books. Just like with the journals, I tend to wait until there are a handful to do in one go. There are four waiting today, so I make a start. Each book gets an EFL bookplate on the first page and a yellow sticker on the cover, as well as stamps inside and around the edge. Then I add tattle-tape – the magnetic strip that sits in the book’s spine and makes the loud beeping noise if someone forgets to check a book out before leaving (or, more often, if I forget to de-sensitise it!). With that done, each book gets a final sticker on the spine for the shelf mark. It sounds like a lot, but I quickly get into the rhythm of it and the books fly by!
The final job to make the books shelf-ready is to cover them. Paperbacks get sticky-back plastic, and hardcover dust jackets get little plastic pockets to sit in. But the easiest ones are the hardcovers without dust jackets – they just need a protective sticker over the shelf mark and they’re ready to go!
There’s a little more to do before the books go out on the shelf, but first it’s …
The EFL is in the St Cross Building, which is a bit further out from the shops than some of the other libraries (looking at you, Old Bod!). But that’s ok – I always like having a little walk at lunchtime. If I’ve remembered to bring a packed lunch, I’ll often stop at the church yard near the library to eat and, if the weather’s nice, I might stay a while to read a book. It’s a little chilly today though, so I pop in to Pret (I definitely get good value out of the coffee subscription) before heading back to the library.
13.30 – 14.00 : Delivery
While I was out, the delivery from the CSF (Collections Storage Facility) arrived, so I head down in the lift to pick it up. We usually get one or two totes delivered each day, with a range of different items in them:
Bodleian books from offsite: these go out on the self-collect shelves for readers to pick up and use in the library.
EFL books from offsite: to keep our shelves from getting too crowded, some of the EFL books that aren’t used very often are kept offsite. Readers can place requests, then pick them up from the hold shelf behind the enquiry desk.
Transfers from other libraries: sometimes, if a reader places a request on a book from the offsite store while it’s being consulted at other libraries, it will be sent straight to the EFL rather than going back to the CSF first, so the reader gets their book quicker!
Returns from ARACU: ARACU is the Accessible Resources Acquisition and Creation Unit, and they sometimes ask us to send them a book so they can make a high-quality, accessible scan for a reader with specific access needs. When they’ve finished, they send the book back to us in the delivery.
New books: before they arrive at the EFL, new books are processed by the Acquisitions team then sent on to us with the delivery.
To help me keep track of which books need to go where, I start by sorting them into piles and work my way through them. It’s quite satisfying to get to the end of a stack of books!
14.00 to 14.40 : Shelving
With the delivery done, I’ve got time to do a spot of shelving. During term-time we have shelvers who help us keep on top of it, but as we’re still in the vacation we each do a bit when we’ve got time. It’s also a nice excuse to get up from behind the computer!
While the main goal of shelving is to get books back on the shelf (obviously!), I also take some time to tidy and straighten up the shelves and move books around if there isn’t quite enough space for them. If there are any real problem areas that would require moving a lot of books or that would need some planning, I make a note to pass on to my supervisor so we can dedicate some time to finding a bit more space for everything.
14.40 – 15.00 : Break
With all the books away, I have my second tea break. Now that I’ve satisfied the green language-learning owl for another day, I spend a happy 20 minutes reading my book.
15.00 – 17.00 : Desk shift
Last up today, I’ve got a desk shift. I spend two hours each day on the desk and, because there aren’t any self-issue machines at the EFL (I guess it’s something to do with the 1960s and their love of concrete!), there are usually quite a few loans and returns as well as other enquiries from readers. Today though, as it’s still just-about vacation rather than term time, the desk is quite quiet.
But there’s plenty to do during a quiet desk shift! I start by finishing up the new books I was processing earlier. Now that they’re all stickered, stamped and wrapped up in their cosy new jackets, all that’s left is to add them to the EFL’s LibraryThing. While all our books do of course appear on the main Oxford catalogue, SOLO, here at the EFL we also put our new books on LibraryThing so they can be found more easily. That done, everything’s ready to go out on the new books display!
I also have time to get on with some of the projects I’m working on. I’ve been going through reading lists and putting them online via ORLO (the imaginatively-named Oxford Reading Lists Online), so students can clearly see what they need to read for each class and where to find it in the library. This helps students, but going through the lists also helps the English Subject Librarian see where there might be gaps in our collection and which books we need to order.
I finish up the latest list I’ve been working on with half an hour of my shift left. That leaves just enough time to update the EFL’s Twitter to highlight our latest blog post, and finish writing up my day here!
At 4.45pm I ring the closing bell to let readers know they’ve got 15 minutes left and start tidying up the enquiry desk. There are always last-minute loans and returns but, as most readers have headed home already, I tidy desks and tuck in chairs while keeping an eye on the enquiry desk.
17:10 : Homeward
At 5pm I ring the closing bell again and the last few readers make their way out. I wash up my tea mug and collect my bag and coat. Most of us leave at the same time and walk together towards bus stops and the train station – it’s a nice sociable way to end the day!
One of my favourite trainee jobs is getting to spend time with all the new books that arrive at the EFL – from stamping and stickering to putting them out on display. I also write a blog post each month highlighting a few of the new books that caught my eye. Some months, we have so many interesting books that I simply can’t choose and end up writing two posts! That’s what happened in October – we had a lot of new books by black British and African American writers arrive at the library and, seeing as October is Black History Month, it seemed like a good opportunity to spotlight a few. If you’re interested in other new books at the EFL, you can check out our monthly blog posts or find all our new books on LibraryThing. If you’re visiting the library, be sure to check out the selection on the new books display!
Ferdinand Dennis was born in Jamaica before moving to London with his family at the age of eight, and themes of migration and one’s roots are woven into the very fabric of his work. The Black and White Museum, a short story collection which follows a series of characters in London, is no exception. Together, the stories encompass ‘generational conflict, the social threat of black men, the wistful longings that disrupt lives, [and] the powerlessness of the old’ (from the publisher) against a backdrop of gentrification and change in London since the mid-twentieth century. As Dennis’s characters grow older, some are tempted to leave London and return ‘home’, only to find that just like the London of their youth, home has changed too. Dennis often leaves his characters and their stories abruptly, before any sense of resolution is reached. This has the effect of underlining the uprooted, interrupted, and diasporic experiences of so many of Dennis’s characters, all of whom ultimately want only to feel that they belong.
Perhaps the first thing you might notice about Natasha Brown’s debut novel is its brevity – it runs to only 100 pages, and even the narrative style is characterised by brief and fleeting vignettes in the life of its unnamed narrator. That narrator is a black British woman who has achieved all the trappings of success, from an Oxbridge education to homeownership and a successful career. But when she is diagnosed with cancer, those successes start to ring hollow. By unpacking her narrator’s experiences, Brown confronts the reader with the endless, everyday racism black British women face. This, then, is ‘a story about the stories we live within – those of race and class, safety and freedom, winners and losers’ (from the publisher). The brevity of Brown’s prose does not detract from the relentless and exhausting racism her narrator comes up against, nor does it diminish the emotional punch of the novel’s conclusion.
June Jordan (1936-2002) was an American poet, activist, journalist, essayist, and teacher. She wrote prolifically, publishing over 25 works of poetry, fiction, and essays, as well as children’s books, journalism, and even lyrics for musicians, plays and musicals. Not only was she an active participant in the politics and struggles that defined the USA in the second half of the twentieth century – from civil rights and feminism to the anti-war and gay and lesbian rights movements – she chronicled those movements too. In this collection, you will find poems exploring issues of gender, race, immigration, and much more, all characterised by Jordan’s ‘dazzling stylistic range’. These are poems ‘moved as much by political animus as by a deep love for the observation of human life in all its foibles, eccentricities, strengths and weaknesses’ (from the publisher). While her poems can and indeed should be read as revealing the heart of the politics, debates and struggles of twentieth-century America, they should also be celebrated for their beauty and musicality.
This anthology of African American poetry, edited by Kevin Young, covers an incredible breadth of poets, poetry, and time periods. The poems are presented in chronological blocks, taking the reader all the way from 1770 to 2020. The poetry styles range from formal to experimental, vernacular, and protest poetry. The selections are hugely varied in terms of theme, too, encompassing ‘beauty and injustice, music and muses, Africa and America, freedoms and foodways, Harlem and history, funk and opera, boredom and longing, jazz and joy’ (from Young’s Introduction). Featuring contemporary African American poets alongside little-known and often out-of-print older works, this is a truly expansive anthology. But Young doesn’t only offer us an enormous breadth of poetry and poets. Each work sits alongside a biography of its author, as well as comprehensive notes which highlight the cultural and historical contexts of the works and, indeed, of the African American experience since the late eighteenth century.
Gloryis NoViolet Bulawayo’s second novel and, just like her debut (We Need New Names, 2013 – also at the EFL), it features on the Booker Prize shortlist. Bulawayo here satirises Robert Mugabe’s surprise fall from power in Zimbabwe, in the form of a reimagining of Orwell’s Animal Farm described as ‘allegory, satire and fairytale rolled into one mighty punch’ (from The Guardian’s review, March 2022). The country of Jadada has the longest-serving leader any country has ever had, a horse named Old Horse – that is, until he is deposed and supplanted by his erstwhile vice-president turned rival. The hope that regime-change brings quickly gives way to despair once it becomes clear that the corruption, violence, and struggles of daily life in fact remain the same. Into the gap left by lost hope steps Destiny, a young goat newly returned from exile, who seeks to witness and document the cycle of revolution and violence. While anyone familiar with the events in Zimbabwe of late 2017 will recognise certain figures and moments, there is also a universality to Bulawayo’s observations and the innovative dexterity of her prose that speaks to something timeless and entirely human.
In this volume of essays, edited by John Ernest, you’ll find explorations of the representations of race in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, representations which – it is argued – are key to understanding the whole of the United States. After all, race shapes everything, from economic policy to where people live, forming the ‘ominous subtext’ of the legal, judicial, and wider governmental infrastructure of the state. The contributors to this volume explore how literature has variously been used both to cement racial visual images in the public consciousness and to fight back against those images, to separate people along racial lines and to form communities. Taken together, the essays do not aim to provide a comprehensive or chronological history of race in American literature; rather, they seek to ‘place readers in this chaotic process of literary and cultural development – caught up in a story, already in progress’ (from Ernest’s Introduction).
Hello! My name is Abby and I’m the graduate trainee at the English Faculty Library (also known as the EFL). Most of my time is spent processing all the new books and periodicals which arrive at the library, including wrapping them in sticky-back plastic – something I’m slowly getting better at!
I graduated with a BA in History in 2018, and I worked as a fundraiser for a while before deciding to go back to university to study for a masters. I finished my MA, also in History, last summer and was then left wondering what to do next. It was at that point I realised that, although I love books and libraries are one of my favourite places in the world, I’d never actually considered working in a library before. I wanted to get a feel for what library life might be like before applying for the traineeship though, so I volunteered for a few months in my local library and started working part-time in a university library.
I’m really enjoying the traineeship so far – it’s hard to believe we’re a month in already! My favourite part has been getting an insight into all the work that goes on behind the scenes, from unpacking deliveries of books from the BSF (that’s the Bodleian Storage Facility in Swindon) and processing new books to putting together displays and writing blog posts. Now that we’re in 0th week, more and more readers are coming through the door every day, and it’s lovely to see the library getting busier. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds!
It’s week four of our ‘interview with a former trainee’ series – how time flies! This week we hear from Katie Day (Taylor Institution Library, 2018/19), Natasha Kennedy (English Faculty Library, 2013/14) and Georgina Kiddy (Social Science Library, 2017/18)
What did you most enjoy about this experience?
I enjoyed how everyone was so keen for me to get to try everything! My colleagues made sure I could dive in and ask loads of questions. I also loved the Enquiry Desk and encountering such a wide range of questions and research queries!
The hands on experience of working in a library combined with the training. When you think of roles in libraries you initially think of cataloguing or being a subject librarian. The training showed show many more career paths and different areas to specialise in.
Attending the training sessions on Wednesday afternoons at Osney. This was a great chance to learn about the variety of roles at the Bodleian and across academic Libraries, as well as meet my fellow trainees.
Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?
The trip to the BSF and round other libraries (I especially remember the public library talk!) were great, but the most useful was probably the talk on library school. I knew a bit about the US route, but didn’t know where to start with the UK and that really helped me – particularly the honesty of the current students who came in to discuss it.
I loved the talk by Frankie Wilson, Head of Assessment as it was extremely useful in understanding what I can do to create services that readers need and want. I also found visits to other libraries such as Oxford public library to be very useful in gaining a greater understanding of the roles of Librarians in different types of libraries.
I enjoyed the variety of training, guest speakers and tours of archives and libraries. I think the most interesting were the tours of the Bodleian’s special collections and archives.
Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?
Yes, I went part-time to UCL right after, and I just finished my MA last year! I’d applied to the traineeship to use it as a ‘taster’ before committing to grad school, and it absolutely confirmed that this was something I wanted to make my career. I picked UCL both for its Cat&Class/Organising Knowledge classes, which I thought were fascinating and not something other schools really offered, but also so that I could continue to live and work part-time in Oxford while attending library school in person. (While, as you can tell from my dates, I was only in-person for half that time, I still loved it!)
I attended Library School straight after the traineeship finished, working full time in the position of Lending Services Supervisor at the Radcliffe Science Library whilst undertaking the course by distance learning. The traineeship confirmed that I wanted to have a career in Librarianship, and that I wanted to gain as much experience as possible whilst doing the Masters.
I went on to do the 3-year MA Libraries and Information Services Management course at Sheffield University, which I have now completed. The traineeship greatly encouraged me to apply and I don’t think I would have committed to the course had I not made it onto the Bodleian traineeship.
In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?
An understanding of academic librarianship and what I wanted from my career. Also, my partner (a fellow 2018/19 trainee)!
Making connections with colleagues, and trying out as many different things as possible by saying yes to opportunities. I was the trainee representative on a University wide group, and asked the Chair whether I could stay on after my trainee year had ended as I had spotted a gap in representation that made sense with my new role. I have just finished a stint of chairing that same group. If I hadn’t joined, then had the courage to ask to stay on, I would never have had the experiences or career I have today.
I really appreciated being able to get involved with a trainee project of my own choosing and having the opportunity to present. This was something that I didn’t have a lot of experience of beforehand and so I think this stuck with me as a pivotal moment of the traineeship.
What are you doing now?
I’m still at the Taylorian as a Library Assistant, but by time of publication I’ll have started at the EFL as a Senior Library Assistant, with a focus on collections! I’m very excited.
I am the Reader Services Librarian of the Bodleian Library, and Learning Support Librarian for MSc Digital Scholarship
I am the Online Reading List Coordinator at the Bodleian Libraries. In this role I support the University in developing and maintaining the ORLO system to ensure readers have access to live and interactive reading lists and materials for their courses.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
If you’re not sure whether to give this a go, this is your sign! I moved to Oxford from Chicago, and having a whole bunch of trainees in the same boat made it all much less intimidating. Also, thank you to everyone at the Taylorian for a great traineeship + three bonus years!
I really enjoyed our visit to London; it was a lovely addition to the traineeship experience. I went to the London Library and the Natural History Museum Library. I was grateful to Staff Development for organising this.
For some bonus content, feel free to check out Katie’s introductory post to the Bodleian Libraries here:
The Bodleian Libraries Graduate Trainee Scheme has been running for a long time – longer than this blog has existed – providing graduates with the opportunity to gain experience in busy academic libraries, whilst learning more about the library sector and profession. The wealth of posts by former trainees is a great way to find out more about the library trainee life, but what happens next? To answer this question, the current cohort reached out to some former trainees to ask about their experience and check in on where they are now. In this first instalment, we hear from Lyn Jones (History Faculty Library, 2013/14), Dom Hewett (English Faculty Library, 2017/18), and Laura Lewis (Bodleian Law Library, 2019/20).
What did you most enjoy about this experience?
Having accidentally found my way to public/school libraries, I decided I’d be interested in comparing these experiences with an academic setting. The contrast was certainly significant! Initially I felt a little overwhelmed (owing partly to the recent relocation of the History Faculty Library), but it’s definitely fair to say that during my year I learned lots and never had chance to get bored. If pushed to comment on what I enjoyed most I think I’d have to be a little bit sentimental and say that the people made the experience most rewarding for me. If I hadn’t enjoyed spending time around them and learning from them I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have come back the year after…
I loved being a key part of the team at the EFL, with responsibilities for all sorts of tasks – from book processing and staffing the enquiry desk, to creating displays and delivering information skills sessions. The trainee program was great in that it provided a social and professional network of other people starting out in library work, and many of them are still good friends of mine.
The graduate trainee year in Oxford was enjoyable in so many ways! Some of the aspects of the year I enjoyed most were getting to know the other trainees (Manor Road Crew in particular!), cycling around Oxford and, very importantly, getting to see the different library roles within the Law Library as well as learning practical skills in Librarianship and research that I have been able to use in all of my roles since leaving Oxford.
Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?
Definitely want to highlight our BSF trip. Biscuits aside, it was genuinely interesting to see how things operate on the other side of things.
The library visits arranged as part of the trainee program were brilliant. I particularly enjoyed trips to the conservation studio at the Bodleian’s Weston Library, and a trip to Oxford Brookes’ new library. The training session on digital preservation was also really interesting, as it was something I’d never thought about before.
I found the training session on Early Printing very interesting and the trips to the Weston and the BSF were both great. The training sessions on cataloguing were perhaps the most useful for my future roles.
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 did do the MA afterwards, though not immediately. This was partly because I didn’t have the funds at the time, but also because I wanted to be sure before committing to it (I went back to a school setting before returning to academic libraries and subsequently applying). I think the trainee session with Stephen Pinfield (Sheffield) was useful on this front; he was honest about what the course entailed and open to questions. There’s a lot of competition for roles these days, but I think it’s important not to feel too pressured to take on the formal qualification until you’re sure it’s what you want. Not everyone can afford to do this straight away, so it’s also important to remind yourself that it’s fine to gain a bit more experience and take it on at a later date.
I was a little unsure about leaping straight into a library qualification after the traineeship, given the financial and time investment involved. After a year’s post-trainee library work I decided that I definitely did want to continue in librarianship and took the plunge. I am doing the distance-learning Library and Information Services Management course at the University of Sheffield, and am working on my dissertation this summer. It has been challenging balancing full-time work with my part-time studies, but it has definitely helped me move ahead in my career, and the course is excellent. An academic from Sheffield came and spoke to us during the traineeship, which influenced my choice of institution, and the flexibility of the distance-learning course was a key factor for me.
I haven’t been to library school yet but it is something I would still consider! The traineeship definitely brought it to my attention as I didn’t really know it existed before or how necessary/useful it could be for working in the Library world!
In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?
A much greater understanding of the complexities of academic libraries. Though I certainly don’t think Bodleian Libraries are typical in most senses, it was valuable to gain an oversight of the different kinds or priorities, in addition to the significant range of roles people play within these systems (and the potential to develop the kind of career that isn’t generally feasible in the public sector at present).
Additional confidence in working with people – I had worked in cafes and a bookshop before the traineeship, but working day in, day out on the enquiry desk improved my confidence at handling challenging situations and helped develop my decision-making skills.
The trainee year was useful for gaining unique experience in the library world and for helping me to know that library work and legal research will always be something I will be interested in!
What are you doing now?
I’m currently Reader Services Team Leader in the Radcliffe Camera and History Faculty Library.
Since January, I’ve been the Assistant Librarian at Keble College in Oxford. It’s a maternity cover position, and it has been a great chance to get new experiences, with wide-ranging responsibilities in a small team.
I recently just finished working at the Bar of Northern Ireland as a Library and Legal Research Assistant and now work as a Paralegal in a solicitor’s office.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
If you’re entirely new to Oxbridge (as I was) don’t be put off by the complexities of the University/Bodleian Libraries. I’m still learning!
I am very grateful for my time in Oxford and would like to thank everyone at the Law Library for a wonderful experience and for the opportunities they gave me to learn- and for always being willing to answer all of my questions!
For some bonus content, feel free to check out Lyn, Dom and Laura’s introductory posts to the Bodleian Libraries here:
When I first started working in public libraries in the beginning of 2021, a fellow Library Assistant told me that “library work is all about managing constant interruptions”. She was, unsurprisingly, correct. What I didn’t realise upon hearing this, however, is how delightful some of these interruptions would turn out to be. Here’s just one example of a somewhat bitty but utterly delightful day at the English Faculty Library.
8:40AM – Morning Routines
There are a few things that I try to get out of the way first thing in the morning – they’re small jobs, usually a little piecemeal or done in a different order each day for various reasons:
Opening up the library: I’m usually first to arrive, so I start by opening up the library for the day. This means checking that we have enough paper in the printers, opening windows, switching on lights, unlocking the computer room, and making sure that reader PCs are turned on. Usually someone else will arrive and help me out (thank goodness!).
BSF collection: When I sit down at my desk, my first task is to dig out the lapse list from the EFL email account. This list tells me which books I need to pull from the Self Collect shelves in the reading room to return to the BSF. Once I’m done with this, I collect any BSF books that have been self-returned, and then start scanning everything through and packing them into boxes. Usually we’re moving somewhere between 1-3 large blue boxes, so it’s easy for me to take these to the collection area by myself on a trolley.
Daily admin: After this, I’ll quickly flip through my emails and start actioning items into my task list on Outlook by their priority, check my teams messages, and respond to things that can be dealt with quickly. There’s a very little to deal with today, which makes planning my time much easier!
Handle anything left on my desk: There are some jobs around the library that are designated trainee tasks, and these will often be left on my desk or in the visible vicinity. This might be something like post, a missing book form, or a claimed return that needs chasing. Today, it’s in-house periodicals! Most periodical subscriptions are available online, but the EFL still holds a small number of print editions in-house – when these are used by readers, they’re passed to me so that I can track their usage on a spreadsheet before they’re reshelved.
9AM – New Periodicals
One of the tasks left on my desk which takes a little more time is a small stack of newly arrived periodicals. These need to first be registered on our periodicals spreadsheet, then checked in on Aleph, then physically processed with stamps, stickers, and tattle tape. Once complete, I’ll pop anything that I can out onto our New Periodicals Display (and move older editions off the display and onto the general shelves).
9:30AM – New Books
Another designated trainee task is the processing of new books for the EFL. I try to wait until I have a stack of about 6 new books before I start processing them, as they’re easiest to do in batches. Today, lo and behold, I have a perfect 6 awaiting my attention on my trolley! Our Library Assistant in Charge of Collections has already set them up on Aleph and given them barcodes, so I start by physically processing them with stickers, stamps, and book plates. There’s more to be done with them yet – but first, I have some other urgent business to attend to!
10AM – Trainee Twitter Meeting
Yep – you heard it here first, folks! The current trainee cohort is in the process of setting up our very own Oxford Libraries Trainees twitter account! A small trainee twitter team has been having meetings around once a week for a while now to solidify our ideas, plan our content strategies, and prepare for our launch date. It’s a project I’m really excited to be a part of. It’s a brilliant opportunity to participate in shaping what the traineeship will look like in future and to improve outreach to the next generation of librarians.
11AM – Tea Break
The meeting wraps up around 11AM, and I’m in need of a tea break. Once a week I let myself head upstairs to the Missing Bean Café for a proper coffee and a doughnut, but most days I stay in the EFL. We have a good kettle and an abundance of communal snack foods in our break area – today I opt for breakfast tea and a mini chocolate chip muffin. Small delights, eh?
11:20AM – Back to New Books
With most of my morning duties out of the way, I’m free to get back to prepping our new books. Next up they need tattle taping and then covering. Covering can take anywhere between a few minutes and the best part of an hour, depending on what needs doing. Hardbacks need nothing done to them. Hardbacks with paper sleeves need a plastic cover put over the paper sleeve. Paperbacks are the most time-consuming, requiring the application of sticky-black plastic across the entire cover – watch out for bubbles below the surface!
There is a brief caveat of an interruption during my new book processing – at 11:30, I need to do my daily reader count. This is a very high-tech and sophisticated operation, during which I walk around the entire library and try to count the number of readers using the space (arguably, with varying degrees of success). It grants me a few awkward looks from confused readers, but it’s nice to take a stroll around the library and bid a good morning to Mr Tolkien’s bust as I pass.
12 Noon – Lunch
No free lunches for Bodleian staff, sadly, but I have leftovers to keep me going. In the warmer months, I like to take the lengthy (2 minute) stroll to the Holywell Cemetery – a graveyard turned nature reserve with some lovely shady benches that are just perfect for sitting and reading. Sadly, I recorded my day on the 21st of February – when we’re under a yellow weather warning for wind – so I hide in the office and read at my desk instead. Today’s choice is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.
1PM – Desk Duty
After lunch, it’s my turn on the enquires desk, where I’m kept company by Bill, our rubber duck. Despite the fact that the EFL is a loaning library, we have no (functional) self-service machines, so all books have to be checked in and out of the library manually. Readers may also come to us with all kinds of queries, but most common are “can you help me find this book?”, “how do I use the printers?” and “can I please use the TP room?” (I’ll explain this later). Interacting with readers is for the most part a delightful experience, and it’s lovely getting to know familiar faces and trying to make a good first impression on the new ones.
It’s very rare that I’m overrun with enquiries, so I can usually spend a little time doing computer-based tasks while on the desk. Today, I’m working on a New Books blog. I write these once a month, selecting 5 books that we’ve acquired in the last month and writing a little bit about each of them. It helps me to keep abreast of our collections and it’s fun picking out the most intriguing titles. Sometimes I’m even able to do them to a theme (like this one for Black History Month!) though this is heavily dependent on the relevance of recently acquired items to current events.
3PM – BSF Delivery
Our daily BSF Delivery is usually made somewhere between 2PM-3PM, so once I’ve been relieved of the enquiries desk, I take the lift down to collect it. Today’s delivery is 2 boxes, made up of a mix of Self-Collect items, new books, returns from ARACU (the Accessible Resources Acquisition and Creation Unit), and reservations for the issue desk (some low-use loanable EFL items are kept at the BSF, and can be ordered for borrowing). I start by sorting everything into piles, then quickly pass the new acquisitions to our Library Assistant in Charge of Collections.
Next I process the BSF books: I check them in on Aleph, add a green slip, and load them onto a trolley in order of their collection code. Once these are all sorted, they can be taken out to the reading room and added to the Self-Collect shelf. I usually give the shelf a little tidy at this point, as it can get quite messy with all the readers who use it. After this, I process the holds on the reservations, return all the ARACU books – and then take a big deep breath and decide it’s time for a tea break.
3:30PM – Tea Break
Another cup of tea! I try to resist taking another snack from the staff room. Sometimes I’m more successful than others…
3:50 – Once More, New Books
I told you this was all about managing interruptions! The final stages are simple, add shelf marks to the spines, put label protectors over them so they don’t fall off, then sensitize the books. Then I can add the books to the EFL’s LibraryThing account. This allows anyone to see a list of what the EFL is acquiring. It’s a helpful addition to SOLO, as it allows you to see all the newer books in one place. We can also customise the listings through tags; if the reader were interested in, say, modernism, they could find a list of over 200 books on the subject.
Last but not least, the books can be marked as ‘New Books Display’ on Aleph/SOLO, then artfully arranged on our New Books Display – handily located right next to our door!
4:15 – TP Room
There is one more interruption in the midst of this new book processing (I did tell you I’d come back to explain this later!). A colleague comes in and says that a reader needs to be taken down to the TP Room.
TP Room stands for Turville-Petre Room (it’s also known as the Icelandic Room). It’s named after Gabriel Turville-Petre, once a Professor of Ancient Icelandic Literature and Antiquities at Oxford, who donated his private library to the English Faculty Library upon his death. The TP Room itself doesn’t house his collection, but instead holds our Icelandic materials, classic sagas, Norse mythologies, and modern periodicals on the same themes. The same name applying to a separate room and collection is, admittedly, sometimes a cause for confusion…
The TP Room is not actually housed within the library itself. To access it, readers have to collect a TP Card from the enquiries desk and head downstairs into the midst of the English Faculty itself. It’s a small space, but utterly delightful. Caged bookcases line every wall, and the room is decorated with photographs of Gabriel Turville-Petre, as well as antique card catalogues and pieces of volcanic rock. It is in almost constant use throughout the week. As staff, our job is simply to head down when requested, unlock the room, and open the cages so that readers can access the books.
4:30 – Reading Room Checks
I have one final task I need to complete for today, and that’s to run a report on the reading room. This is a simple procedure done through Aleph, which produces a list of all the BSF Self-Collect books currently loaned out to our reading room. During term time, this report typically ends up about 10 pages long. I print this out, dig out a clipboard, and head into the reading room to check that everything is where it’s supposed to be. If anything is amiss, I make a note of it on my list.
Usually, a reader is simply using the book at the time I make the check, so I perform secondary and tertiary checks on other days and times. However, it’s not uncommon for readers to muddle up their books and accidentally take home BSF books (which are meant to stay in the library at all times). If this ends up being the case, I send off some emails to the readers and get everything squared away.
5:00 – Homeward Bound
With my work done for the day I wash up my mug, straighten everything on my desk, and dig out my bus pass. My fellow trainee from Teddy Hall was very correct to say that Oxford is a city with so much to do. I’ll often stay to meet a friend for dinner, see a show at the New Theatre or the Playhouse, or meet other trainees for food or drinks – but tonight I’m actually headed out of the city. I have a very important D&D game to get to on Monday nights.
For LGBTQ+ History Month, a selection of the trainees (alongside the St Antony’s Apprentice Library Assistant) have come together to share how LGBTQ+ History is represented across the libraries. Between displays and notable books, libraries provide an important place to learn and reflect on the progress and successes the community has achieved.
Jess Ward and Josie Fairley Keast, Law Library
The Law Library’s LGBTQ+ History Month Display
For LGBTQ+ History Month, Jess has put together ‘A [Brief] History of LGBTQ+ Rights in England.’ On display from the library’s physical collection are the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and the 1967 Amendment, the Gender Recognition Act 2007, and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, with many other examples from the sixteenth century to the present day summarised and cited. The book display traces the progress that has been made since the first mentions of LGBTQ+ individuals in English law, but also highlights some of the issues still facing members of the community today.
Yoshino, Kenji. Covering : The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. New York: Random House, 2006.
Outside of actual legislation, another recommendation is Kenji Yoshino’s 2006 memoir Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. This book intertwines legal scholarship and social history with Yoshino’s lived experiences as a gay Asian-American man, reflecting on the state of civil rights and identity politics in mid-2000s America.
“I surfaced back into my life. I made decisions with persuasive efficiency. I chose the American passport over the Japanese one, the gay identity over the straight one, law school over English graduate school. The last two choices were connected. I decided on law school in part because I had accepted my gay identity. A gay poet is vulnerable in profession as well as person. I refused that level of exposure. Law school promised to arm me with a new language, a language I did not expect to be elegant or moving but that I expected to be more potent, more able to protect me. I have seen this bargain many times since – in myself and others – compensation for standing out along one dimension by assimilating along others.” (Covering, p. 12)
Venegas, Luis. The C*ndy Book of Transversal Creativity : The Best of C*ndy Transversal Magazine, Allegedly. New York, 2020. TR681.T68 C36 CAN 2020
‘On the pages of C*NDY Transversal, [Luis Venegas] acknowledged queerness in fashion, highlighted people all-but-forgotten in LGBTQ history, and introduced an audience to up-and-comers who were changing the landscape of music, runway, and trans culture – and he did it with a glamorous twist. C*NDY was beautiful.’ (p.44)
In 2009, Spanish independent publisher Luis Venegas launched the first issue of C*NDY Transversal Magazine. C*NDY set out to create ‘something like a trans vogue’, celebrating everything ‘transversal’. In Venegas’ own words, this encapsulates trans, gender non-conforming, non-binary and androgynous people, as well as ‘male and female impersonators and drag queens’ – all whom he believes ‘basically break the outdated rules of gender’. Since the first publication, C*NDY has developed a cult following and grown in traction. Later issues have featured renowned LGBTQ+ celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Lady Gaga. However, each issue goes beyond the celebrity: they are filled with portraits of trans rights activists, drag stars, androgynous models, LGBTQ+ embraces.
The Very Best of C*NDY Transversal Magazine, Allegedly is a collection of some of C*NDY’s most iconic spreads. Highlights include model Connie Fleming posing as Michelle Obama, headshots inspired by Candy Darling, and a letter to Venegas from a young transgender fan (p. 251). The latter is particularly significant, a reminder of the importance of celebrating LGBTQ+ people and expression in the past and present.
Readers can enjoy these highlights on glossy pages – akin to the magazine itself – and also read quotes from those who are featured. Many of these offer real insight into the importance of C*NDY, with contributors sharing their appreciation for the visibility it provided. Meanwhile, many quotes are punchy quips about gender expression and identity. These combine to make a book of boldness, of beauty, and aspiration.
Venegas has made it clear that – whilst books dedicated to identity beyond the binary are immensely important – C*NDY does not attempt to discuss the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community. C*NDY is instead ‘a project for all’, in particular ‘anyone who felt othered by their freedom of expression’. It is about fashion, makeup, and hair, in a landscape that goes beyond the gender binary. This is a welcome space of indulgence, through the prism of LGBTQ+ identity.
Serano, Julia. Whipping Girl : A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Second ed. Berkeley, 2016. HQ77.9 SER 2016
A foundational text in transfeminism, Whipping Girl by the biologist Julia Serano is available to loan from the English Faculty Library. The book is described in its tagline as “a transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity”.
The copy we have at the EFL is actually the second edition, which was published in 2016 (10 years after the original). In that time, the book has become a key text (not, Serano notes, the only perspective!) on discussions surrounding gender, queer theory, and feminism. However, as the author says herself in the preface to the second edition: “While the major themes that I forward in Whipping Girl remain just as vital and relevant today as they were when I was first writing the book, some of the specific descriptions and details will surely seem increasingly dated as time marches on.” (p.X).
Despite this, I found myself drawn to discussing the book during LGBTQ+ History Month because of how important this text has become. One of the key elements of this collection of essays and slam poetry is its conception of trans-misogyny: the dangerous blend of both oppositional and traditional sexism (Serano’s phrases), as well as the fact this this book is credited for the popularisation of cis terminology (e.g. cisgender, cissexual, cissexism, etc.). Another important highlight for me is a staunch defence of femininity, and an examination of both the derision of the feminine and accusations of its superficiality and performativity.
It’s hard for me to go too much deeper into the issues of the book without simply parroting all of Serano’s ideas, so I’ll leave off with a quote from the introduction that I believe provides a good baseline for the book:
“One thing that all forms of sexism share – whether they target females, queers, transsexuals, or others – is that they all begin with placing assumptions and value judgements onto other people’s gendered bodies and behaviours.” (p.8)
St Antony’s College Library LGBTQ+ History Month Display
At St Antony’s College library our collection covers a wide range of material on the social sciences, international politics, economics, anthropology, history, and culture. This means we were quite spoilt for choice when selecting material for LGBTQ+ history month! When creating our display, we wanted to make sure we showcased the best of what our collection has to offer on this subject and draw attention to the ways LGBTQ+ history is interconnected with, and relevant to, so many different areas of study.
Our display includes material that talks more broadly about the economic, political and international aspects of LGBTQ+ history, such as M.V. Lee Badgett’s the Economic Case for LGBT Equality and Cynthia Weber’s Queer International Relations, to material that focuses on the experience of the individual like Amrou Al-Kadhi’s Life as a Unicorn. We also wanted to ensure that our material covered history and culture from multiple parts of the world, so we have included books on LGBTQ+ history in China, Russia, the US, Africa, Latvia, the UK, India, and more.
Creating this display has been a fascinating and inspiring experience. The vast amount literature written about LGBTQ+ history from multiple areas of study just goes to show how important this history is when it comes to gaining a better understanding of the world and the human experience. It is crucial that we continue to showcase and celebrate LGBTQ+ voices, stories, and history, and I look forward to seeing our LGBTQ+ history collection grow and flourish in the future!
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 Hall
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. Maiest. mathematici strena seu De niue sexangula (1611) (SEH Shelfmark 4° G 18(6)).
Keplerconjectures 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.
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 Library
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
At the SSL, we got into the Christmas mood by celebratingChristmas 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.
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)
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’.
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)
Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library
Although I enjoy handling books as much as the next librarian, a surprising highlight for mehas 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).Fromtracking down resources for reading lists and LibGuides to navigating copyright restrictionsandexploring the UK Web Archive,I’ve really enjoyed my traineeship so far, and I’mlooking forward to getting more involved with certain areas in the new year.During a recentweekend shift, I was entrusted with decorating the LawBod Christmas tree – picturedis 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. Not 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
The 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 Library
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.
It’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
As 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.
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.