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…

Trainee to trainer?

One of the unexpected aspects of the trainee year for me has been the opportunity for user education.  I hadn’t really considered that during my time here I would go from being the new guy who asks all of the questions to someone knowledgeable enough to give training to our users.  When the new academic intake arrives each October, the Bodleian runs a series of tours around the library to help orientate students and familiarise them with relevant collections for their fields of study.  It’s a big site and the tour takes around 45 minutes with plenty of time to explain things like Closed Stack material, just where exactly the Gladstone Link is and that yes, Harry Potter was filmed in Duke Humfrey’s Library.  I’m also starting to help run ‘Making The Most Of (the Bodleian)’ sessions which cover the practicalities of using the library, from exploring the catalogue to the differences between electronic subscription material and electronic legal deposit.

The Divinity School – User Education since the 1400s

This month, I assisted in a Research Skills workshop for humanities postgraduates at the University’s IT Services centre.  Run collaboratively between the Bodleian Libraries and IT Services, students were able to move between work stations (and rooms) with different tasks on each table and the chance to learn about subscription resources which could aid their research.  It was a fun environment with the idea to change learning tasks every ten minutes.  The students were able to cover a lot during the morning and the on the spot feedback was very positive.  My role was supportive; being on hand to answer questions and solve any issues that arose during the sessions.  The university is fortunate enough to be able to subscribe or have access to an enormous array of electronic resources and at times it’s difficult, even as a staff member, to have even heard of every database – let alone be familiar with using it.  Often it’s about having a broader awareness of how that sort of resource works and being able to explain with a logical approach.

As digital resources continue to proliferate, the role of a librarian will increasingly need to cover user education.  There are always opportunities to help readers in new ways and at the same time, to learn more yourself!

Inductions – a not-so-ordinary Day in the Life

For those not in Oxford, this week has been our Freshers’ Week, which at the Law Library meant lots of lost undergraduates appearing and needing looking after. Every first-year undergraduate law student is supposed to come to a library induction on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, organised by their college, which includes a tour, a quiz, and an introduction to the online resources that we pay for. So it’s been a busy few days for the staff, trying to shepherd them around, answer questions, get our ordinary work done, and help all the other readers as usual. Yesterday for me was a particularly unusual day, so I thought I’d blog a bit about it to give a bit of a flavour of induction week at Law.

After getting in at 8.45 to coax my computer into life and collect my notes, I went to run the first tour of the day at 9.15 with a colleague. We were expecting 15 students, but at 9.20 had only five, so I was dispatched at 9.25 to take them on a tour while she waited to see if any more turned up. Condensing a 20-minute tour into 10 meant a bit of extra pressure, but I was pleased when the group seemed to find the quiz fairly approachable by the end. It was only my second tour, and the first one I’d led had seemed a bit non-plussed about the layout of the library, but this group seemed to remember things quite well. The quiz required them to find four books from areas they will need to find a lot in their first year: Roman law, Halsbury’s Statutes, a Law Report, and a journal article. I even had a go at explaining why there was only one name in the Criminal Appeal case they were looking at – picking up bits of law here and there already! We got them, and another two who’d arrived eventually, safely delivered to the IT induction on time at 9.55, and I had time to get a well-deserved cup of tea.
When I got back to my desk, I found an exciting email waiting for me. I signed up last week to go to a talk by Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science (which used to be held by Richard Dawkins), about how social media is useful to his job. It was part of the IT Services Engage Programme, which looks like it will have a whole bunch of other interesting things over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, when I signed up, the talk was sold out, but I found an email waiting for me to tell me that I could now go. At 12.30 that day! The talk turned out to be really interesting: Marcus du Sautoy was very engaging and enthusiastic, particularly about Twitter, but also about maths and science generally, which as someone who likes to call herself some kind of mathematician, was very refreshing after a while at Law, which doesn’t have much scope for that. Hopefully I’ll get to go along to some of the other Engage talks or workshops, for example there’s one on Crowd Sourcing collections, which sounds very interesting. They’re also running a 23 Things for Research self-study programme over the term, which sounds interesting, and which I’d quite like to do. I’m not sure how it ties in with cpd23, which is for Professional Development, and I know other library people have done.

Anyway, once I’d got back from the talk, grabbed some lunch from the Social Sciences Café next door and got back to my desk, it was time to get down to work in earnest. The Law Bod is part of the legal deposit for the Bodleian. I have to say that I’m not massively up to speed about how exactly legal deposit works, but here’s my attempt at an explanation: every book or pamphlet or magazine etc. that is published in the UK has to have a copy sent to the British Library in London. Any other legal deposit library in the UK (the Bodleian, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, or the library of Trinity College, Dublin) are allowed to request a free copy within a year of publication (paraphrased from Wikipedia, please don’t judge me). Now, within the Bodleian Libraries, various different libraries receive the legal deposit books that we request, depending on the subject. And Law, naturally, gets the law books. I haven’t been able to find a good list of Bodleian libraries which get legal deposit books, but the central Bodleian, the Social Science Library, the Radcliffe Science Library, the Vere Harmsworth Library, and Rhodes House Library all do, while the Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library doesn’t. But anyway, every week we get a delivery of books that our librarian has picked out from the larger list as being relevant to law (sometimes the subject librarians have to argue it out amongst themselves who gets it), and they come to my desk. I process them (stamping, recording, and security taping) before they get catalogued and classified. Soon I’ll be able to help with the cataloguing, but not until my permissions get sorted out yet again. So that took up the rest of my day really, until 5pm.

Which, sadly, was not the end of my work, because it was time for my fortnightly evening shift, until 7pm. I was working at the Reserve Collection, where we keep the most highly-used textbooks and lend them within the library to students. This is mostly to keep track of who has them, so that they can always be given out when people want them, and not get lost in some far corner of the library. I was also checking reading lists, since the Law Bod tries very hard to have a copy of all books on reading lists each year, and so every year every single one needs to be checked (63 this year, although we haven’t had them all yet) against the catalogue. Which is mostly fine, but unfortunately the one I was checking seemed to have been almost entirely rewritten, and there was quite a bit of material we didn’t have, and some which nowhere in Oxford had!

A couple of readers stood out in my mind from that shift. One girl wanted to know all about the various legal databases. I showed her OxLIP+, our way of searching for them, and then helped her to find Westlaw, a major legal database, so that she could find the case she needed to read online. This took a while, since her laptop keyboard and internet browser were both in French! But we got there in the end. Then a little while later, she came back, saying that she was having trouble downloading the case. She showed me what she was doing, and after a while the site gave her a message to click ‘open’ or ‘save’, but neither of these options appeared anywhere! Instead, a banner appeared at the top of the page, in French. Half-remembering seeing similar, English, banners myself, I managed to work out that her browser was blocking a popup that would ask her to save the document. Partly by my very rusty French, and partly just remembering the same process from previous occasions, I managed to show her how to unblock the popup, and she got the article! I felt very pleased with myself.

Another reader had a serious of complicated requests for my colleagues, which I had to help with by photocopying some of his papers, and finding him an envelope. He turned out to be a visiting student of some kind, and wanted to come back the following day to continue working, but only had a day pass for the library. Unfortunately, he waited until 7.05 to let us know about this, so with security hovering at our shoulders, and everyone ready to leave for the weekend, we had to try and sort out his permission to use the library, and explain what he should do after the weekend if he wanted to keep using it. After this, he asked for directions to another building, so we found him a map, and for another envelope, which we couldn’t get because the whole building was locked up for closing! I was impressed at how willing my colleagues were to continue to help him, even though it went well beyond our remit, and it was past closing time on a Friday evening. I only hope I could be that patient in the same situation.

At any rate, at 7.15 in the rain, I finally left the library, induction week over, and ready for a restful weekend. Thanks very much for reading my not-so-ordinary Day in the Life!

Trainee Project Showcase: Graduate Trainee Projects in the Science Libraries

On Wednesday, we concluded our traineeship through the presentation of the projects that we had worked on throughout the year. It was a wonderful opportunity to see what everyone had been working on in their libraries.

I presented my project on the digitization of the Birthday Book of George Claridge Druce (1850-1932), chemist, Mayor of Oxford and one of the great botanists of the early 20th Century, which I worked on at the Sherardian Library in the Department of Plant Sciences. I greatly enjoyed working on this project, and learned a lot, not only about Druce (a most remarkable man), but about the practice of botany in Britain during the early 20th Century (shift from natural history as collecting to a circumscribed science, and the rise of the conservation movement to preserve rare specimens in the wild rather than just collecting them).

I also learned how to design and implement databases in Access and learned some basic XML coding. The next step will be uploading the Druce database to the UK Archives Hub, where it will be made available for research.

One of my other projects at the Radcliffe Science Library involved making a virtual tour of the library, which was used during the Science Open Days at the RSL when prospective undergraduates visit the library and science departments at Oxford. The virtual tour was done using Powerpoint and Adobe Captivate. You can view it at the following link:

Radcliffe Science Library Virtual Tour

Going beyond induction sessions: continuing to keep readers informed

My trainee project is centred around the implementation of a new induction session, predominantly aimed at external readers at the Bodleian Library. As a reference only, legal deposit library, we welcome a large number of external readers, who are usually completely unfamiliar with the workings of the Bodleian. This of course, should not come as a surprise, the terminology, practices and organisation of the Bodleian Library is ‘unique’ to say the least! Inducting readers, many of whom are only staying in Oxford on a short term basis or who will be using the libraries infrequently but over a long period of time, is a tricky task. At the moment, it is a task which has become even more difficult because of the all encompassing changes affecting the New Bodleian. The intricacies and subtleties of these changes have come to the fore this week as I’ve started working in Special Collections, whose massive decant has been underway for some time. The logistics of moving around huge quantities of large, valuable, old material, between different libraries, while maintaining a ‘normal’ fetching service, are difficult to organise and involve so many different departments that it is difficult to keep everyone in the loop all of the time.

All this has got me thinking that however comprehensive induction programmes are, that is all they are.  It is imperative to keep readers informed about operational changes to the library and that got me thinking about blogging, twitter and facebook- Web 2.0 applications I was perhaps too hasty to dismiss, when exploring them as part of 23 Things.

I would be really interested to hear if anyone is planning to run (refresher) induction sessions at the start of Trinity term and to hear about ways libraries are keeping thier readers infomed of changes to services?

Library Inductions…(the law library experience!)

Amy’s post about induction procedure and policy made me realise that I don’t really know how induction works in other libraries so I thought I’d share my experience of the Bodleian Law Library approach;

Apparently law students have a lot of serious essay writing to do before term even properly starts so a good library induction is essential.  I ended up being quite heavily involved in inductions at the law library, for both postgraduate induction week and undergraduate induction week, mainly because I volunteered myself as it sounded like lots of fun!  At the law library undergraduate inductions are a quite a big event. We  held induction sessions during 0th week for each college and these were followed by hands on classes and lectures in 1st week.  Not only was there a library tour during 0th week inductions but a quiz and class in our IT suite  intended to educate the students about using library resources and start their first essays.   The quiz required students to work in pairs, using the print resources in the library to answer the questions. So not only did it help the students to find the key areas of the library for their course but also introduced them to the different resources available. For the first question we gave them the task of finding the title and author of a book by looking for a shelfmark.  Another question involved using the law reports, we gave a citation and they had to find the party names.  Before induction week I tested the quiz to make sure it all worked, I was an obvious candidate as I had about the same level of knowledge of the library resources as a fresher! It was a brilliant task for me to do though as it helped me learn the basics of finding cases and statutes as well as textbooks and journals. I had to ask for help at one point when Halsbury’s Statutes seemed impossible to locate but apart from that I got all the answers right! It seems like a very effective way to make the new students actively learn about using the library from the very beginning of their time here.  A library tour is good but probably not as effective as getting them to go off and find things for themselves.  Of course the tour guides were on hand during the quiz to point people in the right direction and answer any questions, which of course there were many because the library resources can be quite confusing if you are new.  Finding books was a pretty straightforward and hassle free task because by the time you reach university most people have been to a library and looked for a book.  But a law reading list can look very scary once you reach citations for legislation and law reports, understandably this was the point students became stuck.

A citation can look like this: Pepper v Hart [1993] AC 593

Walk into a library with this on your reading list and trying to find it must be a very daunting task.  I can tell you that it is because it took me a while to figure out what all the numbers and letters mean.   So by including tasks like finding a case in a law report as an activity during the induction means that students are at least familiar with the basics of where to look and how to begin interpreting the citation when they start the course.  The skills needed to navigated law library resources are followed through with the Legal Research Skills Programme (LRSP), a compulsory part of first year for undergraduates, which aims to teach students how to find material on their reading list.

I like to think that the law library induction programme helped this years freshers make a start on those first week assignments and made the world of legal resources a little less intimidating! I haven’t had any queries about where to find cases cited on reading lists so I guess the quiz alongside the LRSP must have worked well.

Library Inductions…

Last Friday morning, my supervisor arranged for me to attend the ‘Induction Working Party’ held at the SSL. After a slightly nippy and overcast walk from the Bodleian we arrived for the meeting and were greeted by Alice and Susan staffing the desk! It was so interesting to step into a library which is feels very modern and therefore worlds away from my usual working surroundings in the Bodleian…

Because of timetabling constraints I could not be that involved in the induction process at the Bod, so I was really pleased to have the opportunity to attend a working party designed to evaluate induction policies and more specifically to evaluate this year’s induction. The committee has representatives from several OULS libraries, the Admissions office and College libraries.  I am particularly interested in user education and it is an area of library work I am hoping to get involved in through my trainee project.

One of the main difficulties of a Working Party of this kind is that it covers all libraries in Oxford; colleges, faculties, big libraries, small libraries, each serving a different number of students, with different sorts of needs and interests. Much of the meeting was therefore inevitably taken up discussing the remit of such a group. Although I was encouraged by the progress made and enjoyed the session, the meeting also highlighted how difficult it is to make university wide decisions even on what seem fairly small matters.

One thing I definitely took away from the session was the need to keep talking about induction policy and practice in order to try and appreciate the variety of libraries in Oxford. So… I would be interested to know how many of us were involved in inductions and if you were, was there anything you thought worked particularly well or other things which perhaps needed improving? Also,  we spent a lot of time discussing the undergraduate user education database- if any of you have nay thoughts about it then it would be great to hear them!