Visit to Oxford Central Public Library, Emily Delahaye

This week, we were invited to Oxford Central Library to meet the library staff there, and discover more about the workings of public libraries. Many of us have never worked in a public library before, so it was great to see another type of library, which was simultaneously similar and different to our own libraries.

First, we visited the children’s section of the library. This is an amazing resource for the children of Oxford – with the arrival of the era of self-service machines, the librarians have been able to cut down on the size of the help desk, meaning that there is more space in which children can read and play. We heard about how the library staff hold ‘rhyme time’ sessions here for the children, which involve singing and stories, and which go down very well with the audience. In response to the multicultural population of Oxford, the library has also held story time sessions in different languages, ranging from French to Czech, which have proved popular too.

Next, we visited the music library, which is very well stocked and even contains a piano, for readers to use and on which to try out sheet music! The library has a large number of scores that it loans to local choirs in Oxford, as well as play scripts, CDs, and books on music and musicians.

After that, we entered the main section of Oxford Central Library. When the self-issue machines came in, the librarians were also able to revamp this section. In the atrium, there are new book displays, designed by the company ‘Opening the Book’, which specialises in creating library furniture that will make the books it holds more attractive to readers, for example by displaying certain books’ covers, instead of their less artistic spines. The library chose to move many of its popular items into this new section in the atrium. This was so that during the peak lunchtime hours, readers would be able to pop in and find something interesting to take away, instead of  having to go deep into the library.

During the tour we heard about how the Oxfordshire libraries operate in tandem – readers can borrow books from one library in Oxfordshire, and then return them to a different one, if that is more convenient. While this creates more work in transporting books, it makes life much easier for the readers around the county. This is similar to our libraries in the university – even though readers can’t return books from a different university library to another, we still need to communicate with each other all the time and work inside a much larger team, than just that of our specific library.

The main difference between my library and Oxford Central public library was the content, as we specialise in business, management and economics resources, instead of covering a wider range of subjects. We also serve a much more narrow type of reader. However, like in the university libraries, Oxford Central library provides both physical and electronic content for readers, so in this way, the method of providing information to readers is similar.

Thank you to Oxford Central Library for having us over for the tour!

St John’s College Library Tour

The Old Library

This week, we had a Monday morning treat in the form of our first trainee-led library tour. Joanne welcomed us into St John’s with a bit of historical background, describing the college’s foundation by a wealthy Merchant Taylor and its staunch loyalty to the Royalist cause during the Civil Wars. In fact, finding images of King Charles I in and around the library took on a distinctly Where’s Wally feel after a while!

We were welcomed in and asked to stow our bags safely behind the desk: in contrast to most of the reading rooms we saw on the Bod tour, the librarians are the main form of book detectors here. Then it was onwards into the Paddy Room, a light and spacious area with open shelves holding the library’s science, social sciences and DVD collections.

Upstairs provided a striking change of scene with the Old Library, complete with a laser security system (which Joanne managed to disable for us with her secret library ninja ways). One of the other librarians, Stewart Tiley, then treated us to a hands-on display of some of the manuscripts and early printed books. These works were passed around very gingerly! As we walked through we took in some of the display on the Seven Deadly Sins organised by Joanne’s predecessor; who knew Jane Austen would be one of the guilty party?

The Laudian Library

We then passed into the Laudian Library, named after Charles I’s archbishop. As well as holding modern humanities works and providing an atmospheric workspace for readers, this room housed yet more special collections.

We saw a botched piece of royal propaganda, a tiny New Testament written in indecipherable shorthand and a Renaissance horoscope. Some of the more bizarre curios included a macabre walking stick used by Laud right up until his execution,  while Stewart suggested the reinstatement of the skeletons which used to flank the door. And to keep up the Charles I quota, there was an image of the king composed of a psalm in miniscule handwriting.

Finally, we got to take a peek into the archives, which offered a mix of the modern and the unique. St John’s is very lucky to hold collections of papers previously belonging to Robert Graves and Spike Milligan. What better way to finish a visit by looking at the Milligan’s illustration of Fluffybum the cat?