A Day in the Life at Jesus College Library

A day in the life in Jesus College library is idyllic and peaceful, even though it is also busy. Most of my activity is based in the library office, rather than at a customer-facing library desk, so the support that I provide is primarily behind the scenes. The first thing that strikes me, as I stride through the quad to get to the library every morning, is that Jesus College is very beautiful. Historic buildings may not be of interest to everyone, but I love art history and I’m the type of person who likes to visit National Trust properties in my free time, so I get a lot of pleasure from my surroundings when I’m at work.

The first part of my day always starts with the same routine of tasks and after that it’s a case of reviewing where things sit on the ever-jiggling ladder of priorities, in order to plan the rest of my day. Task number one is to check the reading rooms. I make sure that everything is neat and tidy and that the computers are all ready to go. I quite often reshuffle a few chairs at this juncture, or reshelve stray books. Generally, things will already be in fairly good order and I’ll just be making sure of that, but every now and again I’ll find something out of the ordinary. Once, for example, I walked in to find that a strip light had fallen from the ceiling and crashed onto the table below (though thankfully  no one was hurt) and another time, I found a pile of students asleep beneath a desk. They had pulled an all-nighter to get their work finished for a deadline, then promptly collapsed. I didn’t move them, I just opened a couple of windows…

The title page of a book called "Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants or an Herball of Lareg Extent" [sic]. At the top of the page written in blank ink is the signature of Elizabeth Burghess. The book is held open using a white book snake.
“Elizabeth Burghess her book”
A tiny pressed stem with 6 leaves branching off, three on each side. The leaves sit exactly opposite each other and are almond shaped. Each set gets smaller as they progress down the stem. At the very end the stem tapers off into three tendrils. the leaf sits on top of a page of text in Latin, seemingly to do with horticulture.
A pressed leaf, possibly vetch

Next I check the Fellows’ Library. Given what a fantastic setting this would make for a murder mystery crime scene, very little drama actually occurs here at all. This is where we house all of our rare, early printed books and only researchers with special permission really get to use it. Last term I was given the absolute privilege of curating a little exhibition here, of books on the theme of botany. I was so thrilled to be in there, hunting for fascinating specimens, researching them and writing up captions. I even made a couple of discoveries – one was a plant pressed inside the pages of a 300 year-old field guide to British plant life and the other was a signature, penned by the owner of the book on to the title page in around 1640, who, it turns out, was… a woman! (this is very unusual).

But back to my daily responsibilities, if there are no murder victims, then I make sure all the blinds are down (to prevent sun damage to the books) and move on to pick up the post from the porter’s lodge.

Something that I spend a fair amount of time doing on a regular basis is book processing. The librarian often orders in new books, and book processing is all the things that must be done to a book before it is ready to go on the shelf, such as, adding the bookplate sticker, that identifies the book as belonging to Jesus College; giving it a barcode sticker, so it can be tracked; giving it a security tag, so that it can’t be removed from the library without beeping. I also classify new books coming in, that is to say, I identify which subject they come under and give them a shelf-mark, accordingly.

An ornate wood panelled door with myriad botanical carvings. Above the arch of the door is a panel with two dragons, facing apart, their tails entwined.
Dragons in the dining hall
A carved mantelpiece with the Jesus College crest of three deer. The crest sits nestled between two carved leeks which overlap at the bottom then curve up so that their many leaves drape gracefully either side of the shield.
Leeks above the fireplace

On Wednesdays and Thursdays the librarian and I do elevensies with the archivist. We also do half-twosies. This involves coffee and biscuits around the fire, in an oak-panelled drawing room, full of ancient oil portraits and carvings of leeks and dragons (Jesus is traditionally “the Welsh college”), while the archivist tells us jolly good stories about the heroism or villainy of college members long gone. Lunch is served in hall just after midday.

On Wednesday afternoons I enjoy meeting with the other trainees for one of our varied and delightful training sessions. We’ve had workshops on cataloguing, customer service, digital collections; we’ve been to visit other libraries, we had a field trip to the Bodleian’s huge off-site book storage facility in Wiltshire… all sorts. Each time I’ve felt that the leaders were kind and friendly and had put a lot of thought and care into designing the activity and each time I’ve been struck by just how much goes on in libraries and how many different avenues there are within librarianship.

In my library there normally lurks a host of goals that require chipping away at over time, in between tending to more urgent tasks, so I’ll often make a little window for one of these in the afternoon. Projects of this nature include redesigning library signage, writing up reading lists or [building up to] cleaning out the stationary cupboard. At 5pm I go home.


Grace Exley, Jesus College Library

Hi, I’m Grace and I’m the trainee at Jesus College Library, which is solely for the use of Jesus college students and caters for a broad range of subjects. I’ve been here since the beginning of September, and I absolutely love it.

I’ve always got a buzz from connecting people with ideas and information and I adore polite, civilised conversation. Around my family responsibilities I’ve worked for many years as an artist and a teacher of art. I’ve found working in education to be very rewarding, but teaching involves too much talking for me, so I’m thrilled to have made an inroad into academic libraries.


The lower floor of this room is filled with bookshelves splitting the space into individual study carrels, and the upper gallery is lined with bookshelves.
Jesus College Library (© Jorge Royan, Creative Commons)


The Oxford University libraries network has a truly thriving and interesting community that I’m proud and excited to be a part of. There is so much going on here and so many avenues that your career can go down with libraries as a starting point – more than I had first imagined.

Over one hundred libraries make up this network and it is surprising how independent they can be from one another and how each one is run in a slightly different way – so no two traineeships will be the same! In my library there are only two members of staff – the librarian and myself – taking care of everything. This is fantastic for me, as not only do I get the benefit of one-on-one support, but I also get a very comprehensive overview of what it takes to run a library and there is plenty for me to do.

When I first started the library was very quiet and empty and I had a month to get to grips with how things work before the students arrived for Michaelmas term. Come freshers week I knew enough to help successfully run a couple of days of library inductions for the new students. This was a lot of fun and I felt really excited for them.

Six weeks in, I’ve learned a lot and I feel really supported. The librarian I work with day to day is super-lovely and so are the other trainees, whom I meet up with once or twice a week for a training session. We regularly meet up outside of work too.

My impression so far is that the training scheme is extremely well thought out, well delivered and full of opportunities. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Oliver Miller, Jesus College Library

Hi, I’m Oliver and I am the Graduate Library Trainee at Jesus College. I have just completed my MSc in Security Studies, having previously studied Ancient History (both at UCL) and I am one of three trainees to have made the transfer from working for Buckinghamshire County Council’s Libraries to Oxford (all of us somehow unaware at the time that we were simultaneously applying to become trainees). After working briefly for a public library, I decided that a career in librarianship would afford me the chance to interact with many different people with varied and interesting requests, and felt that the Oxford Libraries Trainee Scheme would be the perfect place to start such a career. I managed to convince Jesus College that I could be trusted to help run their libraries, and am now preparing to help all the new and returning students and researchers.

The Second Quad of Jesus College

Jesus College has three libraries: the Meyricke, the Celtic and the Fellows’ Libraries. As Jesus has historically been the ‘Welsh college’ in Oxford, it consequently has a unique Celtic Library that houses a collection covering (perhaps obviously) Celtic languages, culture and history. As I come from a family with strong Welsh and Scottish ancestry, the college’s heritage particularly appeals to me (and is a source of considerable pride to my Welsh grandfather). However, years of holidays in Pembrokeshire and the Brecon Beacons seemingly did little to improve my Welsh, and I am forced to rely on Google Translate when attempting to classify books with titles such as ‘Pwy fydd yma ‘mhen can mlynedd?’

Perhaps the most ostensibly impressive of my duties is helping to look after the Fellows’ Library. The library, dating from 1676-77 and having been refurbished to its full glory in 2008, houses the college’s antiquarian books, and each morning I conduct a small patrol to check that the library is in good order and that no leaks have suddenly sprung from the roof. I have been taught how to handle the collection properly, with every care being taken to ensure the books will both be preserved for future generations, but also still be of use to scholars studying them in the present day. Regardless I still feel slightly nervous when handling some of the collection; it’s not every day that you find yourself carrying a Greek Bible from 1545 signed by Philip Melanchthon!

The inside of the Fellows’ Library (© Jorge Royan, Creative Commons)

Most of my time is spent looking after the Meyricke Library, which is the main library for students at the college. Often this involves reshelving books, tidying desks at the beginning and end of the day, processing new books for the library, and numerous other small jobs that are essential to the library’s day-to-day running. I have also used my first month here to create a new signage system for the library, in the hope that new (and perhaps even old) students will be able to find books more easily. Later this week the new students will receive their library inductions, so we will soon find out whether I have helped ease their task or simply sent them on wild goose chases around the library!

Harry Wright, Jesus College Library

Hi, I’m Harry, and I’m this year’s Graduate Trainee at Jesus College Library, where I’ve been in post since June. Jesus is one of the more central colleges, whose students need access to a wide range of information, resources and study spaces, and it’s my job to help provide those things! My role this year involves assisting the librarian with the day-to-day running of the library, from removing damaged and superseded books to helping readers with all kinds of enquiries. I also help look after the beautiful Fellows’ Library and am enjoying learning about rare books.

Fellows' Library (Creative Commons)
Fellows’ Library (Creative Commons)

I’m currently in the early stages of planning my Graduate Trainee Project, focused on expanding our Welfare Library.

Prior to working at Jesus, I did a similar traineeship in a secondary school library in Hertfordshire, after studying English Literature and American Literature & Culture at Cambridge and Leeds respectively. Teenagers are a lot of fun to work with (but exhausting at times) and over the course of my two traineeships, I’ve learned a lot about different demographics’ information needs. While I was there, I helped Sixth Formers with their university applications, which opened my eyes to their desire for good-quality information and differing levels of knowledge on how to acquire it. As a result, I am becoming more and more interested in access to information, and hope to specialise in information management within the academic sector one day.

That’s all from me, but I look forward to seeing how this year progresses and finding new areas of interest as I discover more and more about the library world.


Upper Meyricke Library, copyright Jesus College Oxford.
Upper Meyricke Library, copyright Jesus College Oxford.

A Day in the Life (Emma Jones, Jesus College Library)

9am       I compose myself after my attempt at a power walk while checking the emails and arranging book hold requests. Then it’s time to scan in and reshelve the returned books. I put anything inappropriate left on the desks overnight (empty bottles, odd socks etc) in lost property, which as term goes on begins to resemble a contraband amnesty box.

10am     After a quick check of the environmental conditions in the historic Fellows’ Library, I collect the post. There are often book deliveries which need processing, classifying and adding to the catalogue. If a book request comes in from a student and there’s enough time, I dash out to Blackwell’s bookshop or find it online.

11am     It’s term time, so I sit in one of the reading rooms to answer queries. I’m also there to keep a tab on noise levels and behaviour, but it’s exam time so there’s a self-policed moratorium on chatter, tomfoolery, and breathing too loudly.

12pm     As part of an ongoing project, I’m looking through some of the old, low-use books we’ve earmarked for weeding. I check SOLO to ensure that there’s still an accessible copy of each book in Oxford and then withdraw the College’s copies. Getting rid of books used to terrify me, but now I secretly enjoy it. More shelf space for new books and fewer irrelevant books for students to browse through is a win-win situation.

1pm       Lunch! As Joanne at St John’s mentioned, free lunches are one of the perks of working in a college library. They even have Yazoo milkshake here. As always, it’s something delicious.

2pm       Now it’s time to deal with some book donations. We’ve just finished with some German texts kindly left by a graduate, so today I’m going through a list of works which have been offered to the College’s specialist Celtic Library. As someone with only a smattering of Welsh and no knowledge of other Celtic languages, checking spellings and revising search terms to find these obscure texts can be slow work. But how many other people can say they’ve been looking for a book about medieval Cornish drama today?

4pm       Some guests are due to visit the Fellows’ Library next week, so I’ve been asked to find some rare books to display which match their interests (agriculture, apparently). I search SOLO and look through a shelf list of uncatalogued items, before going to inspect the condition of the books and look for engaging images of land surveying and silkworms.

5pm       Home time.

Emma Jones, Jesus College Library

The Fellows’ Library

Hello! I’m Emma, this year’s trainee at Jesus College. I come from a background in Medieval Studies at Birmingham, where I got bitten by the rare books bug while studying manuscripts and early print. Volunteering on Nottingham Castle’s social media this year also got me enthused about making hidden collections accessible. This is my first library job, which is both daunting and exciting!

So far, I’ve been trying to familiarise myself with the Meyricke library. It’s mostly used by undergraduates, so the quiet period before term starts is the perfect time to do this. I’ve begun working through some books donated by a retired Fellow, which is giving me plenty of practice with SOLO. At the moment, we’re also giving tours of the Fellows’ Library (see image) to past Rhodes Scholars, It’s a good opportunity for me to learn a bit about the history of the library, and to see how visitors engage with the works which are chosen for display.

As well as this, I’ve been lucky enough to attend a presentation on parchment making by the Oxford Conservation Consortium, as well as a tour of the Museum of the History of Science’s library. It’s great to work in a city where there are so many people working with books who are willing to share their expertise. And so far I haven’t been disappointed by the librarian stereotype of indulging in tea and delicious cake! I’m looking forward to being able to deal with more readers when term starts and hearing about everyone’s experiences throughout the year.

Library Trainee Day In the Life – Day 11

Looking back to my last post, I’m amazed that time has passed so quickly, and how pleasantly I have found myself in this mixture of routine and variety. Now that term has ended, the pace at the library has altered: with fewer reader enquiries, we have the opportunity to implement longer-term changes, like reorganising the English Literature section.

It also means I have dug out my ‘Day in the Life’ and am finally (!!) posting it on the blog. I chose to document a term-time Monday when, because the Librarian works four days a week, the Trainee is the sole member of staff. This means I often start my week with a reminder of both how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve yet to learn! As time progresses it’s been more of the former and less of the latter, but Mondays remain a unique challenge in the week.

8.55: Arrive. The run up the stairs is my daily exercise.

9.00:  Check the Periodicals Room.

The Periodicals Room is one of the reading rooms of the Meyricke Library. Its desks are cleared first thing every morning to ensure that readers can always find a place to sit. Elsewhere in the library, students may leave ‘Please Leave’ notes to reserve their desks.

9.10: Check emails. Nothing needs to be dealt with immediately, so I scoot ‘round the return points (one by every entrance to the library and a Book Returns box in the hall) and tidy the desks. I separate the returns according to their respective floors, return and re-shelve those in the Lower Library and the Lower Library Gallery.

9.30: Return to my emails, process a book recall, answer a few reader queries, open post that arrived over the weekend.

Opening post in a library often feels like Christmas, especially since I usually get books for Christmas. Today’s present is five issues of a Welsh journal called Ysgrifau Beirniadol, or ‘Critical Essays.’  To get a sense of what I am dealing with I take out my friends Dictionary and Google Translate. Between them and my term and a half of Welsh lessons, I discover where in the Celtic Library they should live.  I cover, stamp, and bookplate them and update their ‘On order’ status on Aleph.

11.00-12.00: Issue desk duty in the Upper Library

Jesus Library is entirely self-service, but this term I’ve been in one of the reading rooms for an hour each morning. Having library staff as a visible presence within the library has meant readers can ask for help more quickly and easily, and that I can spot when someone is looking lost or confused. It also has a positive impact on levels of noise and disruption. I do the second half of my shelving at this point.

12.05: Check post.

12.10:Work on ongoing reclassification of Reference Section.

Like many college libraries we have our own in-house classification system that has grown with the collection. Sometimes this means there are inconsistencies and inefficiencies that need to be ironed out. I take the Italian reference material, reclassify it within the existing Italian section, re-label the books and update their Aleph records.

1.00: Lunch.

Roasted winter vegetables, a cheese scone AND garlic bread, apple juice, an orange. The food at Jesus is pretty yummy and as a member of staff I get my lunches for free.

2.00: Check the Fellows’ Library.

The Fellows’ Library is a beautiful room that Fellows have access to, as well as external researchers on application. Checking it means making sure it is tidy and that there is nothing amiss. I usually do this in the morning, but I enjoy seeing it in the light of different times of the day.

2.15: Trainee Project Proposal.

For my trainee project I am creating a bank of display cards for books of particular interest in the Fellows’ Library. Writing a proposal for my supervisor is useful and stimulating— particularly thinking about what the phrase ‘of particular interest’ really means. I brainstorm and think of examples of aspects I might highlight: provenance, bindings or other material elements, value. I have lots of notes so I sit down with a cup of tea and a pen to make sense of them.

3.00: Pre-emptive shelving

I have been at my desk for a while, so I decide to get a head start on the returns that have been coming in throughout the day. Looking around to see what needs to be done is the task of a Trainee any day of the week, but Mondays are a particularly good test of this skill.

3.30: Make a start on reclassifying Theology reference books.

As above with Italian, though I feel some of the books should be reclassified in History. Classifying is among my favourite jobs because it is one of the rare opportunities that you get to see what’s inside a book. It also means you gain a surface understanding of the shapes of unfamiliar disciplines.

4:00: Type up my proposal , flesh out this post.  

4.45: Check the reading rooms.

5.00: Tidy my desk, put on my coat, brave the cold.

Anna Thomas, Jesus College Library

My first weeks at Jesus College have been a fascinating introduction to the life of a college library. Each of the three different collections—the soon-to-be busy undergraduate Meyricke Library, the Celtic Library, and the pre-1800s Fellows’ Library—has come with its own procedures and priorities. Last week, the Oxford Conservation Consortium came to the Fellows’ library and explained their current project of conserving the fragile vellum bindings of many of the collection. I was particularly struck by the desire to maintain the aesthetic of the library—Jesus College’s rare printed books collection being housed in its original 1679 home—and the need for ongoing conservation. Simple measures like neutral coloured book tape (instead of black or even white) are slowly making the hand of the conservator less visible to the eye and thereby preserving the authenticity of the library itself. A display we prepared for the CILIP Rare Books Conference delegates gave me the opportunity to see and handle some of our treasures, a particular highlight being the 1620 Welsh Bible translated by Bishop William Morgan. I was both inspired and daunted in the face of such a document, especially as I will be beginning Welsh classes this year!

The day-to-day is not always so obviously rich in history and the dust from leather bindings. I’ve also been learning about what it means to run an efficient library for undergraduates, and that means little room for sentimentality over books that are out of date or unused. As we prepare for the return of undergraduates, I’m anticipating seeing how the dynamics of the library accelerate— thankfully sessions like today’s circulation training will enable me to keep up the pace!

Trip to Jesus (College)

Dear all, below my very late write up of Siobhán’s excellent tour of Jesus College Libraries:

On a ferociously cold and exceptionally bright December morning, the trainees assembled like penguins outside the gates of Jesus College for the next in our programme of library tours. Much like St Peter (if he aspired to an MA in Information Management) Siobhán kindly guided us in.

Quad of Jesus College.
Quad of Jesus College.

Founded (somewhat misleadingly) by Elizabeth I in 1571, Jesus College now has about 500 students and three libraries. Beginning with the 24 hour-access undergraduate Meyricke Library, Siobhán showed us Bodleian kids the delights and challenges of the college set up. The main issue, it seemed to me, was in determining at what point a “comfortable and personalised work space” turns into a “nest”.  On the plus side, it would be possible for a trainee to run a highly lucrative black market operation in lost property (trousers anyone?)[1]

Siobhán shows us some books in the Meyricke Library. (If you’re very quiet and look very carefully, you might just be able to see some of the books behind Siobhán)

As it is also Oxford’s “Welsh” College, Jesus houses a Celtic Collection: a restricted library of about 8, 000 books which are maintained and developed by Jesus staff and accessed by students and academics at Oxford and from further afield.

Next on the list? The newly refurbished Fellows’ Library, originally constructed in 1677, which contains a fine collection of old bookshelves with some appropriately aged books. It also contains one of Jesus’ treasures, the dissertation of T E Lawrence, Crusader Castles. A few thousand words and a couple of architectural sketches aside, you really do have to admire a degree system that accepts “a bit of a jolly across the Holy Land” in place of finals. A special mention must also go to the exceptionally comfortable armchairs and really very illuminating lamps. More info on the library’s recent refurb can be found here: http://www.jesus.ox.ac.uk/about/the-appeal

The Fellows’ Library

For the cherry on an already highly impressive cake, Siobhán had orchestrated a truly admirable biscuit arrangement: from wafers, through creams, to those “more chocolate than biscuit” fellows of which the trainees are so fond. Refreshment was taken in the Old Bursary and tea and coffee was kindly provided by Jesus.

[1] Not that Siobhan has ever, would ever, or indeed could ever partake in such illicit activity.

Siobhán O’Brien – Jesus College

Hello, I’m Siobhán and am the first trainee at the Jesus College library.

In September 2008 I graduated from Edinburgh University with a masters degree in ecological economics and worked as an environmental consultant in Bristol until recently.

I decided to embark on an information science / librarianship career last year and have been volunteering at two libraries to gain a bit of experience. My favourite of the two was at the David MacGregor Library, part of the Brunel Institute, based at the ss Great Britain. The library was built to house a large donation of David MacGregor’s books along with several cases of material from Isombard Kingdom Brunel that had not previously been seen by the public. One of the most entertaining parts of the job was seeing ‘Brunel’ walking around outside the library window, scaring small children and posing for photos! Both positions helped give me a feel for what library work entails and put me on the path to this graduate traineeship.

Jesus College is based in the centre of Oxford and is an average sized college, with around 350 undergraduates and 190 graduates. The main library at Jesus College, the Meyricke Library, serves a range of undergraduate subjects. The college also has the Celtic Library, which supports the study of Celtic languages and culture, and the Fellows’ Library which is a beautifully restored room that houses the special collections.

So far I have had a wonderful introduction, both to the college and to the training programme. I look forward to availing of the professional development opportunities available and learning a lot about librarianship over the next year. And the biscuits. I also look forward to the biscuits.