Ross Jones, History Faculty Library

Hi! My name is Ross and I am this year’s graduate trainee at the History Faculty Library, though I’m not entirely new to the Bodleian Libraries experience. Last year, I returned from China to complete a part-time graduate programme in Historical Studies at the Department of Continuing Education here in Oxford. As I was quick to find out, the faculty library would be the first port of call for many of my research queries and most of the resources I’d need to complete my course.

The Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link

Situated in the Radcliffe Camera and parts of the Gladstone Link below, the History Faculty Library is an interesting example of an embedded library in the sense that it shares the space with another much larger library (the Old Bodleian Library) and is encompassed by a complex of historic buildings that make up the ‘central site‘. Occupying such a unique location means the ‘HFL’ enjoys an eclectic and beautifully eccentric mix of architectural features across its four floors, with stunning views over Radcliffe Square to boot.  Henry James’ quote about the peculiar air of Oxford really hit home when I walked inside; I immediately fell in love with the space and found myself wanting to spend as much time there as possible. So began a career with the Bodleian Libraries.

“the peculiar air of Oxford—the air of liberty to care for the things of the mind assured and secured by machinery which is in itself a satisfaction to sense.”          – Henry James, English Hours

Initially working as a shelving assistant, I eventually found myself involved with a veritable miscellany of library tasks. I processed incoming acquisitions, assisted with a book move at the Wellcome Unit, covered evening shifts and took an additional weekend job at the Sackler Library. It was through these experiences, and an increasingly large network of colleagues, that I became aware of the Graduate Trainee Scheme. I jumped at the opportunity. For me, the traineeship represented a chance to receive a more comprehensive grounding in a library-related profession, one that would hopefully contextualise my part-time experiences and provide a preliminary framework for studying an MA in Information and Library Studies.

Although it is still early days, I certainly feel that the traineeship is shaping up to be far more than just that. Less than a fortnight into our year-long programme, I along with my fellow trainees have been introduced to Oxford University’s discovery tools, library management systems, staff development programmes and support networks, whilst a varied workload with duties ranging from the routine to the bizarre (dissuading a tourist from flying a drone over the Camera!) has filled the time in-between.

But the icing on this splendid albeit busy cake has been the people I’ve met so far. Twenty one of us make up this year’s trainee cohort, college trainees included, and we have shared some of our introductory sessions with three foreign-placement students as well. A truly multi-national and friendly bunch, it has been fascinating hearing about past professional experiences and future plans from people who share my passion for libraries. As the year progresses, I am eager to learn how the operational and logistical challenges facing their libraries differ from my own.

Casting the net a little wider, I feel those colleagues I have come into contact with across the entirety of the Bodleian Libraries have also been very welcoming. Course Directors, Line-managers, Subject Librarians, Reader Services and Technical Services Staff have explained procedures, clarified any issues and gone to great lengths to ensure I’ve landed on my feet. I am grateful for their support and the opportunities afforded me by the Libraries.

 

References:
James, Henry, and Pennell, Joseph. English Hours. William Heinemann, 1905.

 

Amy McMullen, History Faculty Library

Hello! I’m Amy and I am this year’s History Faculty Library trainee.

I graduated in 2014 with a degree in English Literature from Cardiff University. Since then I’ve done all kinds of jobs and volunteering whilst living at home in Solihull near Birmingham – working on a busy airport check-in during summer, dog walking, working in a bookshop, and most recently I was a barista at a popular coffee shop chain. As you can imagine, working in a library has been quite the change of pace!

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Not a bad view at work…

Although I have some experience volunteering in libraries years ago, this is my first proper job working in one, and so far Oxford has been a great place to begin my possible career. I feel very lucky to be here!

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The impressive roof of the Upper Camera

Somewhat appropriately given the subject, the History Faculty Library is a place where old and new buildings meet. I am mostly based in the Radcliffe Camera, AKA. the huge pretty circular stone building on all the postcards from Oxford. It’s easy to see how it got its iconic status, and is just as stunning on the inside as it is on the outside – it’s a shame most people don’t get to see it! Its intricate domed stone ceilings, spiral staircases and super tall wooden bookshelves make it really unique, even though it can be a bit eerie arriving in the library alone first thing in the morning. It is truly a privilege to come to work here everyday – everyone is always jealous when I tell them!

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The Radcliffe Camera staircase

However, most people don’t know that underneath the Camera are the space-age basements and hidden tunnels of the Upper and Lower Gladstone Link, which hold more of our collections (turns out a lot of people have written about history) and links to the Old Bodleian, so we can walk underground rather than dodge all the tourists in the Quad. If the Rad Cam represents the past, then the Gladstone Link represents the future. Some people say it looks like something from Star Trek – I think it looks more like a Tube station.

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The Oxford Underground…the tunnel from the HFL to the Old Bod
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The hidden treasures of the Upper Gladstone Link, with original sliding shelves designed by William Gladstone

Although I have only been here a few weeks, I have already settled into a routine at the HFL. Early morning and afternoon are usually when we receive deliveries of books in big blue boxes, ordered by readers from the Book Storage Facility in Swindon, and these are sure to increase as term begins. In between I have shifts on the reception and circulation desks – issuing books, helping students, or just dismissing tourists! I also have to fit in the training sessions with the other graduate trainees. The rest of the time is often spent processing new books (I still haven’t got the hang of the sticky back plastic) or trying to decipher the Library of Congress classification system whilst shelving returned books.

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The view from the desk in the Lower Cam

Michaelmas term starts properly next week, and as one of the biggest lending libraries in the university, we are sure to be busy! I’ve been told that working in the library during term time is completely different compared to how it is now. However, I’m enjoying the calm before the storm ie. being able to race around the city on my bike without bumping into too many lost looking students! I’m looking forward to the coming year, getting to know the university, the library and its readers, as well as my colleagues and fellow trainees. I feel very lucky to have a fantastic opportunity to experience such an integral part of the world’s top university, and I hope to take advantage of everything Oxford has to offer me!

All photos taken by me in October 2016 🙂

Tour of the Bodleian Library

Last Tuesday we had our second trainee get together when we were treated to a tour of the Bodleian library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Gladstone Link, as well as a wine reception at the Divinity School. It was very exciting seeing behind the scenes at these grand libraries!

Old School Quad
Old School Quad

As there are quite a few of us, we separated into two groups and our tours took different routes. In my group we looked around the Bodleian reading rooms first. We heard from our excellent guide all about how books are sent from the remote storage facility in Swindon (which we will be visiting this year!), and the different ways readers can collect their requests once they have arrived in Oxford. We then headed outside to see the Radcliffe Camera (currently undergoing some construction), and travelled back to the Bod underground through the Gladstone Link. I really liked the reader space in the Link, which was very modern compared to the reading rooms in the Bod and the Camera but which still had the traditional stacks, designed by William Gladstone himself.

The Bodleian Library at Sunset
The Bodleian Library at Sunset

Afterwards, we went to a reception in the Divinity School, the university’s first purpose built teaching room which was constructed in 1488. We were joined by senior members of the Bodleian library staff and were given a very warm welcome. The librarians present all wished us well for the coming year, and were very encouraging!