Evie Brown, Bodleian Reader Services

Hello!

I’m Evie and I am one of the two new graduate trainees at the Bodleian reader services aka the Old Bod. So yes I get to work in the building Harry Potter was filmed in – pretty cool!

The Duke Humfrey's Library in Oxford

Duke Humphrey’s Reading Room – also the Hogwarts Library

I am a very recent graduate, having only finished my BA Anthropology degree in June of this year. Anthropology at the University of Bristol was an amazing experience, such an interesting subject and I cannot wait to make a visit to the Tylor (anthropology) library in Oxford.

During the last year of my degree and over the summer I worked in my local public library, which is the reason I decided to go for the traineeship here at Oxford. My experience at the public library has already been vastly different to the Bodleian – I have not had to sing nursery rhymes to babies yet or try to explain to an elderly person how to turn a computer on… I did love my experience there though, and I think it has set me in good stead for what may be to come in this new role.

So, I have been here at the Bod for two weeks now, and it is already flying by. I am finally starting to feel like I know what is going on and what I should be doing at any given moment of the day. Working in such a historic building is amazing (despite the stairs) and the Duke Humphreys reading room is definitely my favourite! I also have met all the other trainees several times thanks to several training courses we have had, and the Divinity Drinks reception we were invited to this week. Everyone is super kind and interesting – I think we are in for a fun year ahead of us!

I am excited for the undergrads to arrive in a couple of weeks, I think the phrase I have heard the most over the last couple of weeks is ‘just you wait till term starts’ every time I comment on the quietness or say something is easy! Its going to be an amazing experience, working in Oxford, and I still can’t quite believe I am here!

So that is my little hello post, I look forward to everyone else’s and to keep the blog up to date with my year 🙂

Michaelmas Reflections from the Law Bod

As I post this, there is a mere few hours left of Michaelmas term and it boggles the brain as to where the time has gone! Reading back on my first post from over two months ago has got me reflecting on how much I’ve learned since then and how comfortable I now feel in a building that has been slowly revealing its character to me. These dark, gloomy mornings must be making me emotional!

As I am based in the Information Resources team, my tasks this term have been mainly book processing, serials processing for the New Journal Display and reclassifying part of our collection. This is broken up with a several 2-hour shifts a week on the Enquiry Desk which have been great for interacting with our regular readers and learning about their area of research, as well as aiding newer readers in navigating our, often confusing, collection. I have only just gotten to grips with the layout of our ground-floor rolling stacks, and not embarrassed to admit I had to consult a map a few days ago while shelving after becoming baffled as to where the usual home was of an old, secondary collection Criminology text.

A rare sunny and quiet morning in the Law Bod. View into the main Reading Room from the Gallery.

My IR (Information Resources) work is varied and allows me the privilege of handling almost every book that comes through the library – be it through Legal Deposit, purchase or donation. Some days I’ll find myself 5 minutes into reading a book that I had intended only to skim through while stamping and tattling. Who knew law could be so interesting to an English Literature and Art History graduate?!

One of the more difficult, but very informative, tasks have been the reclassification of our Roman Law collection. My language experience has certainly come in useful as the texts are predominantly in German and Italian, but it is often hard to decipher the nuanced meanings between certain words when you are deciding on specific shelfmarks, as many words can be similar in language but mean very different things in a legal context. One language which would have been useful to be familiar with is Latin, but I decided against studying it on the belief that it would not help me while being a tourist… However, now that I am learning tonnes about Roman Law and its apparent influence on our own Common Law legal system, I can impress anyone while travelling with the Latin terms for various contracts and criminal activities, because I hear people love to talk about Stipulatio and Damnum Iniuria Datum on their holidays, yes?

‘Furtum’ is the Latin legal term for ‘theft’ in Roman Law …but of course you already knew that.

Speaking of summer holidays… the stormy, winter weather has brought the library alive with the howling of the wind circulating around the building and the thunder of the rain on the slanted roof windows. The noise is almost biblical when the rain is pouring and it still excites and awes me when it is in full force. I am really getting familiar with where the best seats are, which of our four floors is the least chilly and the quietest areas of the library, which is useful when suggesting places for readers to park up with their books for the next 8 hours. I have also aided a student in using our microfilm reader, which was a nice departure into the past from a standard query of how to search for legislation on an online database.

Best seat in the house. This nook can be found on our Gallery level, tucked between carrels with a lovely view.

Finally, our training sessions this term have been so interesting and varied, and extremely useful for day to day library work. Seeing the other trainees almost every week has been so great for catching up and reminds me that I’m not alone in being thrown into so many new experiences. I am so looking forward to heading back up north to Scotland for Christmas and Hogmanay, but I am also welcoming Hilary Term in the New Year and wondering what new challenges and opportunities it will bring. We still have a few weeks left until the Law Bod closes for Christmas, but Merry Christmas when it comes and lang may yer lum reek!

Ruminations From A Reading Room

As part of the traineeship, I work one late shift each Friday, which makes for a welcome change of pace. Once the 9 to 5 flurry of circulation activity subsides, a palpable calm fills the library as readers settle down to an evening of study. The shift in tempo provides a much needed opportunity to catch up with emails, book processing and other ongoing projects. It also gives me the chance to reflect on some of the things that make this experience so memorable, primarily working in the Radcliffe Camera.

An early morning snap of the Camera

Home to the History Faculty Library, this building is a regular feature of lists and literature documenting noteworthy landmarks throughout the UK. Its circular design, with baroque allusions to classical architecture, make it a feast for the eyes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, images of ‘The Camera’ pervade the city’s visual culture and manifest in a plethora of interesting ways. A staple of postcard vendors, it can be seen spray-painted to a building on the Cowley Road and is the subject of pictures in numerous shops and restaurants.  Its likeness has been reimagined in the form of key chains, book ends and ornaments in the Bodleian Shop as well.

Some of the trinkets available in the Bodleian Shop

The Camera’s role as a reading room of the Old Bodleian Library since 1860 has also brought it international recognition, and this cultural icon continues to attract large numbers of students, academics and tourists from around the world today. This trend reflects the increasing popularity of the Bodleian Libraries as a whole. Figures from the 2016/17 academic year reveal that specialists and staff across the organisation responded to roughly 7,500 queries a week, and sustained public interest has meant that the Libraries are among the UK’s top 50 most visited attractions in 2018. This got me thinking of how such an organisation meets the expectations of a complex and increasingly large demographic; the task of reconciling the contradictions between tourist attraction and academic library must be a tricky one!

Through the traineeship, I have been fortunate enough to learn about some of the ways this challenge is being addressed. During a behind the scenes tour of the Weston Library, Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections, shed light on how the building’s clever use of space helps to serve a host of different visitors. The open plan design of the atrium in Blackwell Hall means that the cafe, exhibition rooms, lecture theatre, temporary displays and information desk are visible as one seamless panorama, whilst a suspended glass-panelled gallery puts the inner-workings of the library on display overhead. It’s this architectural ingenuity that helps evoke a welcoming sense of inclusivity.

Blackwell Hall and the Weston Library’s suspended gallery

The Bodleian’s decision to accommodate for heightened levels of public interest is evident throughout the central site. In addition to hosting open lectures and workshops, The Libraries also offer a sneak-peak of the reading rooms, some of which featured in the Harry Potter films. Each week, volunteer guides perform the mini miracle of leading immersive tours through this famed network of silent study spaces, with minimal disruption to readers. Nearing the end of Michaelmas term, I am still struck by the novelty of a trail of beguilled visitors passing through the library each Wednesday to gaze at the Camera’s domed ceiling.

The ceiling in the Upper Camera

Though I’ve not been here long, it seems to me that a flexible, creative and pragmatic approach to public engagement has meant that there really is something for everyone at the UK’s largest library system. It is enlightening to learn how such a feat is achieved.

Ross Jones, History Faculty Library and Radcliffe Camera

Jenna Meek, Bodleian Law Library

Me! In front of our exhibition celebrating 100 years of votes for women. Photographed by Hannah Chandler (Official Papers Librarian), @thelawbod

Hello! I’m Jenna, and I will be spending my traineeship in the Bodleian Law Library. I am originally from a town in central Scotland, and have spent the last 6 years in Glasgow where I completed my degree in English Literature and History of Art at the University of Glasgow. While I have not travelled the furthest for the traineeship, as we have a few trainees from mainland Europe doing placements with us, Oxford certainly feels like a far cry from Glasgow! Most notably, having only experienced a blend of a city and campus university in Glasgow, getting my head around the collegiate system in Oxford has been difficult. Something I am coming to realise is that Oxford likes to do things VERY differently in many respects!

I was so pleased and grateful to have been offered a place on the traineeship, but also slightly intimidated! I have no previous professional experience of working in a library, but became very familiar with my university library spending (literally) every day there during my final year. I do, however, have around 8 years of customer service and retail experience which I think will come in extremely useful when on the enquiry desk and interacting with such a varied pool of readers in a library as busy as the BLL. Secondly, it was advised that it would be preferable if the BLL trainee had a decent grasp of a few languages, which thankfully I do. This has come in very useful when completing one of my integral tasks of organizing the weekly New Journal Display which boasts many foreign language texts. However, it had not aided when trying to decide which page is the title page when processing a text written in Chinese characters!

While the BLL interior seems very new after having a refurbishment in the last few years, the building itself was built in 1959-1964. As Bryony has stated below, it shares the St. Cross Building with the EFL and the Law Faculty and creates a series of three interlocking cubes. It has a very different feel from many of the college libraries dotted around Oxford, though it has definitely been built for purpose, with four floors of space for the 550,000 texts the Law Bod holds which are mainly on open access. Designed by Sir Leslie Martin (1908-2000) and Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007), the blocky exterior is juxtaposed with the light and airy atrium in the main reading room. Jeffrey Hackney, who was a law student at Wadham College when the building opened, describes:

“My first reaction to the building was that it had been modelled on an Aztec temple and it was a constant source of pleasant surprise that there were no human sacrifices at the top of the steps. “

However, during the exam period, I imagine many students are in as much terror and as helpless as the sacrificial lamb! In actual fact, Ruth Bird, (Bodleian Law Librarian 2004 – 2017) advises that there is notable influence from Alvar Aalto’s Säynätsalo Hall, and the external brick cladding intended to blend with the stone of the adjacent Holywell manor and St Cross Church.

The BLL in 1964: Donat, John, Bodleian Law Library, St Cross Building, University of Oxford, Photoprint, 1964, RIBA Collections
Säynätsalo Hall: Accessed September 2018, https://museot.fi/searchmuseums/?museo_id=9147

One of the most interesting parts of my introductory weeks has been seeing the Official Papers holdings in rolling stacks on the ground floor. 2.5 linear kilometres of texts were moved from the basement of the Radcliffe Building to the Law Bod in 2009. Seeing reports and materials that have changed laws and the lives of people living in the UK has been a real treat and I’m hoping to do a blog post on some of the most interesting finds in the near future.

At the end of my third week, I have already learned SO much and I can’t wait to continue learning and gaining new skills from the extremely helpful teams housed in the BLL, as well as training alongside all the lovely trainees on the scheme. So far I’m not feeling the terror the sacrificial lamb, but I’ll get back to you on that once the mass of undergraduates start in a couple of weeks!

References:

Hackney, Jeffrey in Ed. Bird, Ruth, Celebrating 50 Years of the Bodleian Law Library 1964 – 2014, Witney, Oxfordshire: Windrush Group, 2014, p.5

Ibid., p.138

University of Oxford, The Faculty of Law, Accessed: September 2018, https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/about-us/about-faculty/st-cross-building

Lee Colwill – Law Library

Hi! I’m Lee, the Law Library Trainee. My main experience with libraries before joining the Bodleian was as the librarian of the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society’s library. This had the pretty great perk of being able to buy all the sci-fi and fantasy books our budget could handle (so, about five), but I have to say, it’s nice to have librarianship be my main focus now, not just something to be squeezed in around my degree. Said degree was in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, which is slightly more relevant to working in a Law Library than you might expect – I eagerly await the day when only my detailed knowledge of medieval Welsh law can save us from cataloguing disaster. Any day now…

The Law Library is a pretty fantastic place to work. Our collection is hugely varied, ranging from up-to-the-minute dossiers on tax law to law reports from the Elizabethan period, not forgetting the wonderful Red X Criminology section, a.k.a. the Trashy Jack the Ripper Books section (now, alas, mostly in Swindon). Almost everything is open-shelf, which means a shelving trolley might contain anything from the most recent Parliamentary publication to a book printed in the 17th century (I’m still quite excited about that one).

Bodleian_Law_Library_Reading_Room
View over the Main Reading Room

At the moment the library is fairly quiet (in terms of readers, if not in terms of actual noise levels, thanks to the building works happening at the moment), which has given me the chance to learn a lot about all of the varied work that happens here. I’m based in Information Resources, where I’m mainly involved in the behind-the-scenes work of processing new books, but I’ve also been learning about the Academic Services side of things, such as the Document Delivery Service. Recently, I’ve been helping out with induction tours for new postgraduate students. When I first arrived, I thought I’d never learn my way around, so it’s quite a relief to realise that I actually do know where most things are (although I do occasionally go up one of the more twisty staircases and realise I have absolutely no idea where I’ve come out).

One of the things I’m looking forward to in my traineeship is the opportunity to get involved with the Moys reclassification project that’s currently happening in the Law Library. The Moys shelfmark system is designed specifically for law collections and is meant to make it a lot easier to browse the shelves by subject. Since my involvement in the Great Recataloguing of the Sci-Fi Library back at university, intuitive shelfmarks are a subject dear to my heart, and I’m warped (or perhaps just boring) enough to find cataloguing really enjoyable.

That’s about it from me. I’m looking forward to learning all sorts of new skills over the next year (and hopefully becoming reasonably competent at a few of them!), and this seems like a pretty good place to do that.

Danielle Czerkaszyn, History Faculty Library

Hi! I’m Danielle, the new Graduate Library Trainee for the History Faculty Library. I am based in the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link.

radcliffe-camera_image
Radcliffe Camera

A bit about me: I am from Hamilton, Ontario and completed a BA in History from the University of Guelph and an MA in History from the University of Western Ontario. In 2011 I took the plunge and moved across the ocean to England for the MA in Museum Studies programme at the University of Leicester. Following my year in Leicester, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to go back to Canada and I am still in the UK four years later!

Unlike most of the other trainees, I am new to working in libraries. I’ve had a wide variety of customer service jobs and volunteer roles- everything from a coffee shop barista to a museum intern to a front of house assistant at a major UK tourist attraction- but never a library, although the idea of being a librarian has always been at the back of my mind. During my time at university I spent a lot of time in the library and often wondered what it would be like to work on the other side of the desk. With my background in history and museums, I figured a career as a librarian wasn’t too far off since libraries often put on exhibitions with their special collections and a lot of museums have libraries and archives. Plus I have always been one to have a book on the go and love the idea of being surrounded by books! I realise librarians are far too busy to do any reading on the job but that doesn’t stop me from noting down books that I might like to peruse on my own time.

I was fortunate enough to be placed in the History Faculty Library which houses the University of Oxford’s main collection of undergraduate materials in Medieval and Modern History, as well as in the History of Art and History of Science.  It is nice to be in my subject area and among some interesting historical material- I have even found myself shelving books I recognise from my own studies. I also have the added benefit of working in a stunning historical building which is not a bad place to arrive each morning.

Radcliffe Camera ceiling
Upper Camera Ceiling

Having never worked in a library before I didn’t really know what to expect when I started at the beginning of the month. I have had a lot of training in the past couple of weeks and have done several solo shifts on the reception and circulation desks- luckily help has always been nearby! I have also done a few closing shifts which involve ringing an antique bell and shooing out the readers reluctant to leave. I think the most challenging part so far has been remembering all the required passwords and getting to grips with the vast amount of library jargon and abbreviations. Fortunately my colleagues in the Camera have been very patient and helpful as I get orientated. September is a good month to start as the library is relatively quiet, however I’ve been told nothing will prepare me for the change of pace next month when term starts and the new students arrive.

If these first few weeks are anything to go by, I am looking forward to the year ahead- getting to know my fellow trainees, becoming more confident in my role at the HFL, and exploring all that Oxford has to offer.