Tag Archives: Lady Margaret Hall

Visible and invisible marginalia

October: there’s a new month to write on the bookplates. On one side of the library, the wildflower meadow has been mown for the winter, while on the other side squirrels chase each other around rings of crunchy leaves arranged by the gardens team.

Autumnal tree with arranged circles of fallen leaves, and red brick buildings in the background.

LMH’s grounds change with the seasons. (That’s the library in the background.)

I’m enjoying the increase of students that comes with the start of the academic year; that moment where you help a reader find the information they need is one of the most rewarding aspects of library work. Inductions have been delivered, and students are beginning to remember where the book returns box is and how to persuade the self-issue machine to scan their library cards. And when the staff can’t be around, hopefully our updated guidebooks are helping the students to navigate the library, as well as the re-designed signs giving (hopefully) helpful hints at the point of need.

Desk with pile of books, library stamp, and 'October 2018' handwritten on printed bookplates.

Books waiting for their bookplates.

But in those quiet weeks before the students returned, much of my time was spent digging through multiple sources of book donations. I never knew quite what to expect when I opened each slightly musty box. Some were simply labelled ‘Odds’.

Donated books, in contrast to books that have only ever belonged to the library, bear more of a trace of an individual reader’s life. They are depositories of nicknames, Christmas cards, and unofficial reviews in biro (‘not as awful as I expected’). I found newspaper clippings, postcards, and typewritten author correspondence about nuns.

New marks and notes are not encouraged in library books: we are trying to preserve our collection for future readers. Our books are full, though, of invisible notes. Library books are no less brought alive by readers; readers, in turn, are marked by the new information from the books. Whether an inspiring autobiography from Our Shared Shelf (more on that in a later post), a textbook that completes the final lines of a coding project, or a dictionary flicked open to a new favourite word – books are interwoven with readers’ lives. Book donors’ more apparent interactions with the physical items are a reminder of this.

Resin skeleton with fake cobwebs, plastic spiders, and a pile of DVDs.

Freddy with his pick of Halloween DVDs.

But anyway, that’s enough sitting around romanticising circulation. Libraries may be vessels of new ideas, old ideas, rediscovered ideas, and disproven ideas, but they are also full of day-to-day tasks. This week, as it’s nearly Halloween, I’ve been busy helping Freddy the library skeleton keep our display stocked with horror DVDs, Gothic tales and plastic spiders. Signs need laminating. Acquisitions need classifying. And I’m also meeting some exciting new ‘colleagues’ who I’ll hopefully be sharing photos of in the next blog…

Emmy Ingle, Lady Margaret Hall Library

Me in the very intriguing Briggs Room, where the rare books live.

Hello, I’m Emmy and I’m the current graduate trainee at Lady Margaret Hall Library, one of the college libraries. For my first post, I thought I’d give an introduction to how our library and its unique personality fit into the 100+ Oxford libraries. I’ll also tell you a bit about my own interests and experiences within libraries and information, which are a little different from an academic library.

‘Filled with volumes of every kind, handsomely bound without, and full of useful learning within…’

 

…is how an early student described the original LMH library. It’s large for a college library, and there is a historical reason for this. LMH was founded in 1878 to allow women to study at the university; previously, colleges only admitted men. Early LMH students were heavily discouraged from visiting the Bodleian Library (where they might encounter boys!) and consequently they relied on a comprehensively stocked college library. One of the things I like about the college is how they continue their history of access and inclusivity, for example through the Foundation Year programme.

1879: the college’s first nine students. [Source: LMH]

This slightly larger collection includes  a rare books room (having lived surrounded by the history of the Pendle Witches for the last few years, I’m excited to meet the witchcraft books). However, we’re still smaller than the faculty libraries, and being part of a small team means I get to do a bit of everything – from the expected (turning the photocopier off and on again) to the more surprising (competing on the library’s Giant Jenga team and definitely not cheating).

LMH Library from across the wildflower meadow.

So how did I end up here? Saturday afternoons spent helping out at my local Sue Ryder shop were my introduction to systematising written materials: sipping tea in the stock room, I’d sort bin bags of dusty-smelling books into alphabetised piles. Later, I became interested in the information side of things. Between university lectures I volunteered with the student charity Sexpression:UK, who facilitate workshops in schools around PSHE topics. This made me reflect on where the young people I was working with sourced knowledge and information, and how they were (or weren’t) being encouraged to evaluate it.

Having developed this interest in information in health contexts, I looked for some work experience with Library and Knowledge Services at my local NHS trust. Besides trying out shelving, the label machine, and other more traditional library activities, a clinical setting presents more unusual opportunities. I found myself testing wet-wipes with nurses, learning my way around a forest plot, and listing as many synonyms as I could find for ‘hip operation’. Healthcare knowledge and information is an area I’m hoping to become involved in following the traineeship, so I’ll probably talk a bit more about what this entails in another post.

Freddy doing a bit of shelving.

Having looked at the past and the future, I’ll leave you with what’s currently going on in the library at this time of year. Students are about to resume their studies. This means there are inductions to prepare (which may involve jelly beans and our resident skeleton, Freddy) and the latest textbooks to process. Meanwhile, the library pages in my notebook are already filling up with events, meetings and scribbled ideas. I’m looking forward to sharing them on here as they happen.