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…
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.
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.