Astronomy at the Old Bodleian: The 1769 Transit of Venus

When you’re working at the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Old Library, you sometimes end up fielding questions about the history of these establishments from curious readers, and so a colleague advised me early on to do a little bit of reading on the subject. We even keep a helpful printout of the Wikipedia page for the Bodleian Library at the Proscholium (the main entrance), and as I was looking through this a sentence caught my attention:

“The astronomer Thomas Hornsby observed the transit of Venus from the Tower of the Five Orders in 1769”. [1]

Interesting, I thought – having studied astrophysics at university, I’m a little bit of a space nerd. So, I started diving deeper into the topic.

What is the transit of Venus, and why was it important to observe?

Venus appears as a small black dot visible against the Sun, which appears large and orange.
The transit of Venus as photographed in 2004.

The transit of Venus simply refers to Venus crossing directly between the Earth and the Sun, like the moon does during a lunar eclipse. Since Venus is significantly further away from us than the moon, it appears much smaller, and so during its transit we would see a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. The last two transits of Venus occurred in 2012 and 2004, and the next one won’t be until 2117. [2] Nowadays, an event like the transit of Venus is interesting to watch, and is a good way to get people interested in astronomy, but back in the 18th century, it was also of real scientific significance.

Edmond Halley (1656-1742), of Halley’s Comet fame, was the one to suggest that the 1761 and 1769 transits of Venus would be the perfect opportunities to take some measurements which could be used to calculate the distance of the Earth from the Sun, a question that became known as “the most noble problem in Nature”. [3]

But how would this be done? The answer lies in a phenomenon called parallax. [2] The simplest demonstration of parallax is to hold a finger a little distance in front of your nose, and close one eye, then the other. You should notice that your finger seems to move, because you’re now looking at it from a different angle. If you experiment with holding your finger at different distances from your face, the size of this effect will change. Similarly, if you watch the transit of Venus from multiple places on Earth, it will cross the edge of the Sun at very slightly different times, and if these times are measured accurately enough, you can work out the distances involved.

The 1769 transit

To get the best results, observations need to be made as far apart as possible. James Cook and his crew were to journey to Tahiti to observe the phenomenon there [4], and many scientists and keen amateurs planned to make their own observations all around the world [3]. As Bridgerton fans may recall, even King George III observed the transit.

The phenomenon really captured the public imagination. Lectures were held in the lead up to the event, and a wide range of prints and instruments were sold [3].

Observations in Oxford

Thomas Hornsby, the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at the time, chose to make

The Tower of the Five Orders. It is built of pale stone and is ornamental pilllars and statues decorating it..
The Tower of the Five Orders today.

his observations from the top of the Tower of the Five Orders at the Bodleian Library [5]. He described his reasoning as follows, in an article published by the Royal Society:

“I proposed to observe the transit of Venus and the Sun’s eclipse in the upper room of the tower of the Schools, which, though the floor of it be very unsteady, yet from its elevated situation afforded me the clearest view of the north-west part of the horizon, and is indeed the best place for making occasional observations in different parts of the heavens, and at different altitude, which this place at present affords.” [5]

Others made their own observations in locations including New College Tower and “an unfurnished room of the Hospital”. [5]

Hornsby described that although initially “the wind sometimes blew so hard as to incommode the observer”, the weather conditions soon became favourable to observe the transit. [5] However, he encountered the same problem as all the other observers: a phenomenon known at the time as the black drop effect, whereby Venus appears to stretch out and become pear-shaped as it meets the edge of the Sun’s disk. This, combined with the fact that the edge of the Sun’s disk appears darker than the centre, makes it very difficult to accurately judge the time at which Venus crosses the edge of the Sun. [2]

The results

Thomas Hornsby was one of several scientists who combined some of the data from different locations to attempt to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun. I found it fascinating that in his paper he does discuss ideas about errors and accuracy, albeit not in the quantitative way that a modern scientist would:

A series of drawings entitled "Appearances of Venus by Capt. Cook" showing Venus as a black circle with a grey halo around it , with the lower edge of the planet seeming to spread out as it crosses the edge of the Sun's disk.
Cook’s drawings of the black drop effect. [4]
“From the near agreement of the several results before found… and affected only by the necessary error in observing, the accuracy of the observation… is abundantly confirmed”. [6]

I also enjoyed the following sentence, which I can’t imagine ever seeing in a modern scientific paper, in which he explains an alteration he has made to the data gathered by the French astronomer Pingré:

“And Mr. Pingré… will probably be of the opinion, that an error of one minute was committed in writing down the time of his observation, as was conjectured by many persons, as well as myself; a mistake to which the most experienced observer is sometimes liable”. [6]

By the end of his calculations, Hornsby arrived at a figure of 93 726 900 miles [6] as the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Remarkably, there is only a 0.8% error in this compared to the modern value of 92 955 800 miles. [2]

However, different astronomers produced a wide range of different values [7], meaning that unfortunately, what we now know was a highly accurate result for Hornsby was a lucky fluke. Astronomers realised there were large errors in their data: instead of timings being precise to within a second, as they had hoped, there were uncertainties of about a minute, due to the black drop effect and the dark appearance of the edge of the Sun’s disk. [2] The final verdict was that the problem remained disappointingly unsolved. [7]

Final remarks

Despite the lack of a conclusive answer, I think this remains a fascinating part of the history of astronomy. The worldwide nature of the observations to my mind echoes modern enterprises such as the Event Horizon Experiment, which combines radio telescopes all around the world into effectively one huge telescope and so was able to take the first photo of a black hole in 2019. [8] Furthermore, the story of transit observations continues today as a key way in which astronomers are able to discover planets orbiting stars outside of our Solar System. [2] And all of this, to me, makes the connection to our own Bodleian Library site all the more exciting.


[1] Bodleian Library – Wikipedia Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[2] Transits of Venus | The Royal Astronomical Society ( Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[3] “The Most Noble Problem in Nature” ( Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[4] Cook, James, and Charles Green. “Observations Made, by Appointment of the Royal Society, at King George’s Island in the South Sea; By Mr. Charles Green, Formerly Assistant at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and Lieut. James Cook, of His Majesty’s Ship the Endeavour.” Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), vol. 61, 1771, pp. 397–421. JSTOR, Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[5] Hornsby, Thomas. “An Account of the Observations of the Transit of Venus and of the Eclipse of the Sun, Made at Shirburn Castle and at Oxford. By the Reverend Thomas Hornsby, M. A. F. R. S. and Savilian Professor of Astronomy in the University of Oxford.” Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), vol. 59, 1769, pp. 172–82. JSTOR, Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[6] Hornsby, Thomas. “The Quantity of the Sun’s Parallax, as Deduced from the Observations of the Transit of Venus, on June 3, 1769: By Thomas Hornsby, M. A. Savilian Professor of Astronomy in the University of Oxford, and F. R. S.” Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), vol. 61, 1771, pp. 574–79. JSTOR,  Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[7] “The Most Noble Problem in Nature” ( Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.

[8] Press Release (April 10, 2019): Astronomers Capture First Image of a Black Hole | Event Horizon Telescope Accessed 6 Nov. 2023.


Nia Everitt, Bodleian Old Library

Hi! I’m Nia and I’m the new Graduate Trainee at the Bodleian Old Library. The Old Library contains two reading rooms, as well as the Duke Humfrey’s Library- of Harry Potter fame. It features as the restricted section of Hogwarts Library, but it is certainly not restricted to students wanting to study or read in there. The staff study in DH has also been home to me whilst completing my mandatory training- the most aesthetically pleasing place any online work training has taken place, I’m sure!  

The Selden End of Duke Humfrey’s

A few months ago, I was studying at the University of Manchester for my undergraduate degree in English Literature. Manchester is home to some amazing libraries and archives, and it is during my time as an undergrad that I discovered my love for this area of work. I volunteered at the Portico Library, located in Manchester city centre, which has a great collection of 19th century ‘polite literature’. I also spent some time archiving for the Pankhurst Centre, which is a women’s centre, heritage site and museum allinone. 

Working at the Old Library, however, is quite different to anything I’ve experienced before. You really feel the significance of hundreds of years of history, with the eyes of 202 great scholars and thinkers following you as you wander the Upper Reading Room. This collection of portraits is called the painted frieze. It’s exciting to play a part in such an awe-inspiring facility.

So far, my favourite part of my job has been that I get to chat to so many different people every day. The Old Library has such a variety of readers and visitors. When I’m working on the Main Enquiry Desk, I answer emails from people who are in the neighbouring building, to scholars on the other side of the world! I’ve also learned how to process new books going on to displays or the open shelves, which includes tattle-taping and stamping items. There is a desk dedicated to this, which sort of feels like an arts and crafts corner. It’s safe to say I am thoroughly enjoying getting to grips with all the different facets of working at the library.

A heron we’ve noticed on our trips back from The Punter- which we hope to see again and are dutifully searching for an ‘H’ name for- any suggestions? Humfrey? Hildegard?

As a student who spent their first year of university locked down in halls, my library was a sanctioned place I could go to feel less isolated. Although we’ve emerged out of the pandemic, I believe that the importance of this has not waned, and so I’m really keen to get involved with using the library as a place to promote student wellbeing. Aside from this, the training sessions that introduce us to different careers in librarianship, such as our recent talk on cataloguing, will be incredibly useful in helping me decide on how to move forward in this field. It also helps that there is a great cohort of trainees this year and that we’ve enjoyed many trips to the pub already!

If you see me in the Old Library or in the Radcliffe Camera (I can often be found in the Lower Gladstone Link, staring quizzically at the Nicholson sequence) please don’t hesitate to say hello and ask me any questions you may have!




A Day in the Life at the Old Bodleian

Opening (8.42-9): LGL

Like Alice’s over at the Rad Cam, my day begins at 8.42 precisely. This week, I have been allocated to open the Lower Gladstone Link, turning on the computers and the printer (PCAS machine). Rather too often, one of the pesky History Faculty team get here before we do despite the fact that the Lower part of the link contains almost exclusively Old Bodleian books and is part of our opening rota! As much as I might want it to be in these instances, my work is, unfortunately, not done, with the LGL always seeming to have quite a bit of reshelving to do each morning. Perhaps it’s the fact it’s a little tucked away, perhaps it’s that it closes half-an-hour earlier than the rest of the library, or perhaps it’s due to the large number of book scans it seems to generate, but I quite often don’t make it through the whole replacing trolley before my 9am shift.

This subterranean segment of the Old Bodleian (named after nineteenth-century Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone who designed its distinctive rolling metal stacks when this was a staff-only, closed-stack space) also contains two shelfmarks endemic to it, and notoriously difficult to understand or explain (which I would, no doubt, fail to do adequately if I tried now): the “M” shelfmark containing all different types of Humanities material categorised by size and the year they entered our catalogue; and the “Nicholson” sequence named after a nineteenth-century Bodley’s librarian who designed it, presumably as a nasty trick to confuse readers for at least the next century-and-a-half. All I will say is that each digit after the first in the first part of the call number clarifies the first, so 3265 e. 46 is between 326 e. 567 and 327 e. 1308, not after both. And look out for the letter in between; despite being in the middle, this is the first way the books are classified so you won’t find a “d” and an “e” next to each other!


Three wooden desks with plastic screens sit next to a large window. The desks are decorated with tinsel. Behind the desks is a wall with built in bookshelves, two of the shelves also have tinsel stars.
The Main Enquiry Desk at the Bodleian decorated for Christmas.


MED (9-12):

Well, enough of boring you with shelfmark explanations that took me weeks of hands-on practice to get my head around! Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning I help out on the Main Enquiry Desk (MED) which serves both as the first point-of-call for in-person enquiries about the Old Bodleian and as the place where all emails sent to the Reader Services address, regarding all of the Bodleian libraries, end up and our answered. I’ll head up there in the Lower Reading Room just before opening time at 9am on these days, help out with clearing the off-site books whose loans have expired (lapsed) from Lower’s Self-Collect and check the inbox. This will usually consist mainly of questions regarding access to the library, advance off-site book requests and technical issues. Updating myself with the latest emails landing in the junk folder can also be an entertaining way to start the day!

Today, after an extended correspondence, I am expecting a visit from television producer who has come to view past issues of University of Oxford student newspapers looking for information regarding a certain former PM who studied here (like all other university-educated Prime Ministers since the Second World War except for Gordon Brown). Much to my disappointment, and despite asking if I would be onsite to help, the producer doesn’t come to see me. I thought, perhaps, I might be interviewed for the documentary with a short video of the “librarian” and his views on said Prime Minister an invaluable contribution. But, alas, it was not be and my five minutes of fame are delayed to some other occasion.

Still, my morning on the MED did involve researching the works of amateur botanist and early photographer Anna Atkins (1799-1872) after an enquiry by an undoubtedly precocious Year 9 school student. Atkins is best known for her 1843 book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, reputed to be the first published book illustrated with photographs and making her possibly the earliest female photographer in history. Though these facts are impressive, the prints themselves which she produced are even more so in the beautiful simplicity of the process used to achieve them and the beauty of the colour and pattern of the end result. Invented only a year earlier by a friend of hers, this is how the New York Public Library, which holds one of the extant copies of British Algae, describes the process of cyanotype:

“Herschel… discovered that colorless, water-soluble iron salts, when exposed to sunlight, form the compound known as Prussian Blue; unexposed areas remain unaffected and the salt rinses away in plain water, leaving a blue ‘negative’ image. Inexpensive and easy to use, the blueprinting process, or cyanotype, is familiar today as an artists’ medium as well as a popular children’s pastime…”

And so my morning, waiting for a brush with stardom that never arrived, was lightened by looking through the NYPL’s digitised, open access version of these cyanotypes, seeming to foreshadow the paintings of Yves Klein and Henri Matisse’s cut-outs in their brilliant, if incidental, use of the colour blue.



Lunch (12-1.30):

Finishing at the Old Bodleian at 12 for early lunch, I wolfed down my sandwich in expectation for a bit of a wander round town before the walk up to the Oxford Brookes Headington campus for this week’s training session. Deciding that a trip to the charity shops of Jericho might be a bit ambitious in the time I had, I opted instead for a quick jaunt to the Oxfam on Broad Street which, despite being the first and oldest branch in the world, I had always found rather disappointing. I was rewarded today though with some bargain vinyl to add to my collection and I started my journey up Headington Hill with a jaunty spring in my step while I chatted to my artist sister on the phone about the Atkins cyanotypes.


A big glass fronted building stretches up four stories. There is an open section for the front door with the words "John Henry Brookes Building" written next to it in large white letters. Above the main door a large metal section extends out from the main building formin an arch perpendicular to the entrance.
The front entrance to the John Henry Brookes Building


Trip to Brookes (1.30-4.30):

I then arrived at Brookes after the slightly-strenuous climb in time for our tour of the library kicking off today’s training. My first impression was that it could hardly have been more different than the Old Bodleian, mainly in its attitude towards readers which also informs its architectural style and physical layout. Throughout the afternoon, whether admiring its individual and group-study spaces, or learning about staff’s marketing initiatives, teaching, and reading list organisation, I was struck by how the student experience of using the library informed pretty much everything the librarians did. Although the Bodleian clearly must cater to a far larger number of academics and external researchers, contains an almost-infinitely greater number and variety of books, and appeals to those with a taste for the gothic over the metallic, I would say the University of Oxford as a whole has a lot to learn from Brookes in its emphasis on the importance of pedagogy as an indispensable discipline for all its lecturers and academic librarians. As I said, the physical space, set over six floors, was designed for comfortable, relaxed study with both quiet and group discussion areas and rooms while there were also several self-service borrowing machines spread throughout. From my perspective as a former Master’s student at St Antony’s College, Brookes was much more proactive too in using posters and social media to get students engaged and informed about the library while also pushing for lecturers to make their reading lists available through the university’s online platform. Subject librarians (in Oxford’s terminology) or Academic liaisons (in Brookes’s) also made sure they met students in lectures, and one-on-ones at dissertation level, to explain the different resources on offer and how to use and access them.


Rows of white shelves extend down the left-hand side of a corridor that ends in a glass window looking outside. Along the right wall desks and chairs stand empty. Just before the window at the end of the corridor one person sits at another desk.
The Brookes Library


We had the chance too to visit the Special Collections part of the library, held in the basement, of course. Rather than medieval manuscripts and government files, however, their archives were devoted in part to collections around food and drink. These included the late Antonio Carluccio’s library, Ken Hom’s “golden” wok made to celebrate the sale of one million units and, most excitingly and tantalisingly for me, only part way through Dry January, the collections of the National Brewing Library. My appetite somewhat sated by the acquisition of a commemorative beer mat, we ventured back out to the rest of the library. Alice had very kindly invited us all round to her nearby flat for coffee and a chat afterwards where we then lingered for an hour or two before venturing back out to the depressing January drizzle and, eventually, home.

Charlie Ough, Bodleian Old Library

A view of St Aldates street on a misty grey morning with Christchurch College's Tom Tower appearing through the mist and a cyclist on the street ahead.
A misty walk to work past Christ Church College.

Hello, my name is Charlie Ough (pronounced “Oh”) and I started just a little more than a month ago now as the new Graduate Trainee at the Old Bodleian Library, the building composed of the fifteenth-century Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s reading room together with the seventeenth-century Quad connected to the Radcliffe Camera via the Gladstone Link. Though I was a Master’s student at St Antony’s College up until I started the traineeship (handing in my dissertation less than 24 hours before my first day!), I have only just gotten to know my way around this central complex of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries with the particular help of Alice at the Rad Cam. Previously, I could count with ease on just one hand the number of times I had visited during my year’s study!

I also did not have any experience of working in libraries or information management before I started. However, the time I have spent studying and researching in libraries and archives during my undergraduate degree at SOAS, University of London and Master’s in Modern Middle Eastern Studies here at Oxford really got me interested in finding out what goes on on the other side behind the now-ubiquitous plastic screens! After finishing my BA in History shortly after the first coronavirus wave in the summer of 2020, I spent over a year back in Devon working at the café of the Donkey Sanctuary just outside my home town of Sidmouth and then at a pub in Oxford alongside my studies. This experience of customer service with some of the most difficult punters out there (drunks, dogs, and donkeys) means I’ve very quickly come to enjoy helping readers at the Bodleian despite my lack of formal knowledge of the building itself and profession more widely.

The front entrance to the Bodleian Old Library which has beautiful ornate masonry and a statue of the Earl of Pembroke in front of it.
The “proscholium” or main entrance to the Old Bod.

One of my favourite duties so far has to be working at the Enquiry Desk on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings with Alan and Morwenna. This desk is always staffed during the Old Bodleian’s opening hours and serves, from its convenient location by the main entrance to the Lower Reading Room, as the first point of contact for all email and telephone enquiries sent to the Bodleian Libraries. While helping readers reset passwords and find books, I have the opportunity to track down obscure texts, find and present information about medieval representations of rats and photographs of 1930s’ Chad Valley board games, and iron-out irregularities in our catalogue all the while chatting with my colleagues about our weekends, Cary Grant’s suits and the latest bizarre and apocalyptic junk mail we’ve received!

Aside from that, the only other main activity I have been tasked with that Alice hasn’t already mentioned is investigating some of the oddities in the classification of the collected primary documents and local history material in the oldest part of the Old Bod, the Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room. Though it can be frustrating to try to understand why volumes 4, 6 and 19 of the List & Index Society Series (I assure you as exciting as the name suggests!) were sent to our offsite storage facility in Swindon when all the other volumes are on the Open Shelves, requesting items up from the closed stack and realising you have solved at least a piece of the puzzle can be rather rewarding! As rewarding as reading the editor’s apologist defence of the tradition of feudalism in the 2003 edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry is entertaining, unsurprising, and deeply worrying all at once!

In the months ahead, I’m looking forward to our Trainee trip to the storage facility in Swindon and to giving more tours for new undergraduate students which I have thoroughly enjoyed and also discovered as a brilliant way of forcing myself to memorise and retain a lot of the diffuse information and advice I have received over the past month. If anyone reading this comes on one of my tours, or simply sees me around the library, please do come up to ask any questions you have which I’ll be more than happy to answer or pass on to the veritably-omniscient Alan! You might also see me in the evenings or weekends working the occasional shift at Oxford’s oldest pub, the Bear Inn off the High Street, though do not perhaps expect me to be quite as polite!

A view of the Bodleian Old Library tower with a blue sky behind it and sun reflecting off the windows. The right-hand walls throw shade across the base of the tower.
The tower at the Bodleian Library

Interview with a former trainee (part 6)

It is the sixth and final week of our ‘interview with a former trainee’ series! It has been really insightful to hear different perspectives on the training scheme – to understand what people have found most interesting, and also what they took away from their time as a library trainee. This week, we feature a perspective from a traineeship outside of Oxford, as we want to highlight that although many former Oxford trainees are still working in libraries today, similar opportunities are also available in libraries in Cambridge, London, and further afield. In our final interviews (for now), we hear from Freddie Hankin (Old Bodleian Library, 2020/21), and Leona Stewart (Trinity College Cambridge, 2017/18).


What did you most enjoy about this experience?


I had an atypical year because of COVID, but I would say working in beautiful surroundings with a huge library collection.


Meeting all kinds of Librarians! We were really lucky in Cambridge to have a schedule set up where we would visit a huge amount of other libraries & speak to a big variety of professional Librarians. As you’d expect, every Librarian we spoke to was unbelievably kind & helpful. It was chatting to all of them that made me so sure I wanted to keep pursuing Librarianship after the year was over.


Freddie next to the Earl of Pembroke statue, in front of the entrance to the Old Bodleian Library
Freddie in front of the Old Bodleian Library, where he was a trainee in 2020/21

Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?


Sessions on conservation and special collections were very interesting, and I really enjoyed the ones on digital archiving/open access.


The most useful training I took part in during my trainee year was learning to catalogue, & this has helped me out in every job I’ve applied for ever since. Aside from that, I took the trainee year to sit in on a many special collection seminars & workshops as I could which has prepared me for working with these collections as I do now.


Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?


I am currently doing a part-time distance Masters at the University of Sheffield in Information Management and Librarianship. I’m not sure I would have ever considered it without having done the traineeship.


I studied my MA Library & Information Services Management from the University of Sheffield straight off my traineeship. Studying the part-time, distance learning course at Sheffield meant I could work alongside studying & I took a Senior Library Assistant job at St John’s, Oxford, during that time. My degree was conferred in November 2020, but because of the pandemic I am actually only about to graduate. As I write this, my graduation is next week!


In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?


Increased confidence (and a Bodleian Keepcup).


Confidence, definitely! For me, there were so many new experiences involved in the traineeship: moving to Cambridge, my first quasi-professional role, interacting with many (many!) new people. It is helpful to view the traineeship as an opportunity to get stuck in to as many facets of library life as possible . This isn’t the case for everyone, but it was helpful for me that the staff is so large at Trinity I was a little bit surplus to requirement, so I had to ask a lot of questions & make my own work quite frequently, which has definitely helped me in the long run.  Of course, I learned a lot of more tangible things as well, like cataloguing & how to spiral bind (& spiral bind & spiral bind & spiral bind…)


What are you doing now?

The reading room within trinity college library, with a large desk and shelves in the background
Trinity College Library, where Leona was a trainee in 2017/18 (© Trinity College Cambridge)


Working as a library assistant at the Bodleian Health Care libraries, but I’m about to leave Oxford and move to France for a few months!


Currently, I am working as Acting College Librarian at Keble College in Oxford, while the full-time Librarian is on maternity leave. On her return I will go back to my permanent role as Assistant Librarian. I am also a part of the CILIP LGBTQ+ Network Committee as Events & Communications Co-Ordinator.


Is there anything else you would like to mention?


I like to look back on my trainee year now & think of it as a time when I got to experience a lot with the safety net of the more well versed Librarians around me. Although times haven’t changed that much because I still rely on my Oxford colleagues for support… It was a great time to try things out, ask questions & get a feel for whether it is the right fit.


For some bonus content, feel free to check out Freddie’s introductory post to the Bodleian Libraries here:

Freddie: Freddie Hankin & Miriam Kunin, Old Bodleian Library | Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees

Interview with a former trainee (part 5)

For the fifth instalment of our ‘interview with a former trainee’ series, we hear from Ross Jones (History Faculty Library, 2018/19), Ivona Coghlan (Bodleian Law Library, 2017/18) and George White (Old Bodleian Library, 2017/18).


What did you most enjoy about this experience?

A view of the Rad Cam, with the St Mary Church spire in the background
The Radcliffe Camera, home to the History Faculty Library, where Ross was a trainee in 2018/19


It gave an unrivalled grounding in library work in Oxford.


You got to see a wide variety of libraries and get a real feel for different areas of library work. Personally, I also really enjoyed getting to meet the other trainees and formed long lasting friendships.


The highlight was definitely meeting my fellow trainees. I made some friends for life. So much so, that I live with one of them- I teamed up with my bestie to get on the property ladder. I think the neighbours were pleased to hear that two librarians would be moving in! Recently we hosted a Trainee mini-reunion, and had 3 other trainees to stay for the May Bank Holiday weekend, which was so lovely!


Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?


The training sessions I found most interesting were the tours of other libraries. The sessions I found most useful were the talks by various professionals, which covered both theory and hands on experience (like sessions about Aleph – the Library Management System – and tools for presenting).


The session where former trainees came in and discussed a selection of various library courses was probably the most useful. I also found seeing the archives really interesting as it was an area I knew little about.


The Bodleian Libraries is such a large organisation, consisting of many different libraries and departments who are all responsible for different things. Visiting all the libraries, and hearing from colleagues about their roles, really helped me make sense of the Bodleian Libraries as a whole. All the sessions were useful, but a couple of sessions stand out as particularly interesting: visiting the Conservation Studios at the Weston Library (painstaking work, I wouldn’t have the patience) and the University Archives (they’d laid on some really fascinating pieces).


Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?

Some shelves with a long run of red bound journals
Some shelves within the Bodleian Law Library, where Ivona was a trainee in 2017/18


I am writing up my dissertation this year for Sheffield. The traineeship guided me in taking the MA and choosing Sheffield.


I completed my PGDip in 2020. The traineeship helped me to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the different courses. It also meant I knew people from the traineeship doing the course at the same time. We did different courses but it was good to know people in the same boat. As I had no previous library experience, the traineeship helped me feel confident about the decision to pursue librarianship. This was particularly important to me due to the cost of the course.


I had a place at Sheffield to study for a Masters in Librarianship for the 2017/18 academic year. However, when I got on the trainee scheme, I deferred my place. The traineeship definitely affected my thoughts on this, as it was during the traineeship that I heard about the possibility of studying for library school, via distance learning. This really appealed to me- the thought of going back to being a full-time student, with no income, was a bit scary. After talking with colleagues, I found I knew a fair few people in Oxford who’d done it- worked and studied at the same time. They warned me that it was a lot of work, so I knew what I was getting into. I applied for internal Library Assistant jobs that came up over the trainee year and got a permanent position at the History Faculty Library. Once I got this, I changed my course with Sheffield to be the distance learning course. As my friends had warned me, it was hard work! I decided to do a postgraduate diploma, rather than a Masters (essentially a Masters, minus the dissertation).


In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?


Getting a sense of the bigger picture at the Bodleian. It is all too easy to think locally, but through training sessions, talks and tours, the traineeship shows you what is happening in lots of different places at once. This helps to contextualise your position in the wider organisation.


It improved my ability to network. It encourages you to ask questions and learn from others. It also gave me confidence to try new things even if I didn’t have prior experience.


Not being afraid to ask questions. I think sometimes we worry about asking for help, because we don’t want to look stupid! However, it’s always best to ask about something if you’re not certain. Especially in libraries, where staff are always happy to help (I don’t think I’ve ever come across a mean librarian- we are so very misrepresented in films and TV!) When you first start any job, it can be a bit overwhelming- there’s a lot of information to take in at once. It’s impossible to remember everything. While you’re settling in, ask questions- even if it’s just ‘do you like working here?’ It’s a good way to get to know your colleagues and learn at the same time.


What are you doing now?

the wooden doors of the Great Gate with the coats of arms of the different colleges open to view the statues of the Earl of Pembroke.
The Great Gate of the Old Bodleian Library, where George was a trainee in 2017/18.


I am a Senior Library Assistant at the Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library (PTFL) and English Faculty Library (EFL), as well as a Reader Services Supervisor at the Old Bodleian Library.


I am currently on secondment as a Senior Library Assistant with The Biomedical Library at Queen’s University Belfast.


As of December 2021, I’m a Senior Library Assistant at the Cairns Library, in the John Radcliffe Hospital. My full title is Senior Library Assistant: Collections Management & Enquiry Support (a bit of a mouthful. And, yes, I did have to check my email signature to make sure I got it spot on!) which means I spend half my time on collections (I’m learning to catalogue and classify, which I know will be very useful skills to have throughout my career in libraries) and the other half on enquiries (answering emails from healthcare students and professionals, based in the hospitals). It’s a nice mix of tasks and I am enjoying the job so far. It’s quite different to working in the History Faculty Library and there’s lots to learn, which is great.


Is there anything else you would like to mention?


It seemed very difficult to get proper cataloguing/technical services training as a trainee. I hope this changes so that more numerous career paths can be opened up.


I loved my time as a trainee, and hope that all current and future trainees have (and continue to have) a great time and learn lots!


For some bonus content, feel free to check out Ross, George and Ivona’s introductory posts to the Bodleian Libraries here:





Interview with a former trainee (part 2)

Our series of interviews with former trainees continues! This week we hear from Duncan Jones (Old Bodleian Library, 2014/15), Gabrielle Matthews (All Souls College Library, 2013/14), and Jenna Meek (Bodleian Law Library, 2018/19).


The outside of the Old Bodleian, featuring the Earl of Pembroke Statue and the glass window of Duke Humfrey's Library
The Old Bodleian Library, where Duncan was a trainee in 2014/15

What did you most enjoy about this experience?


Working at the main enquiry desk and coming into contact with a range of readers and staff from other departments.  I also enjoyed the experience of being part of the trainee cohort.


Receiving training beyond the remit of my own library.


Gaining essential library experience and making friends with the other trainees! I’m still in touch with many of them.


Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?


It’s a while ago now but I remember finding the library schools session useful.


Frankie Wilson’s training on assessment has really stuck with me! Also, the library visits were really useful and interesting.


I really enjoyed all the visits, but I also felt that the practical sessions were the most useful, e.g. how to use the LMS (Library Management Systems) etc.


Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?

A view of All Souls College from the quad, featuring the library on the left hand side, and a college building on the right
All Souls Library (left), where Gabrielle was a trainee in 2013/14


I did the Sheffield distance learning course from 2015 to 17. The traineeship influenced me to do it but I decided on distance learning because I wanted to be able to carry on working alongside it.


I did a LIS MA programme (UCL). The traineeship did influence this decision — speaking with my line manager, my predecessors in the role, and the session about the various programmes helped me make up my mind to do an LIS MA degree.


I did do an MSc in Information & Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. I really enjoyed the course, and it is a very research-led university so everything is very up to date. We also had the opportunity to do a few placements which were super useful for gaining more experience in areas I was particularly interested in, e.g. cataloguing.


In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?


An awareness of roles in the academic library sector and the confidence to apply for different opportunities.


A better understanding of academic libraries and how they function.


Practical working experience in a HE library, which helped me get the role I’m in now. It helped me much more than the MSc!


The outside of the Bodleian Law Library
Bodleian Law Library (up the stairs), where Jenna was a trainee in 2018/19

What are you doing now?


Two part-time roles in Oxford – Lending Services Project Coordinator for the Bodleian and Reader Services Librarian at St Anne’s.


I’m currently the Senior Assistant Librarian at All Souls College.


I’m a library collections assistant at the Glasgow School of Art library, and I mainly do acquisitions & cataloguing.


Is there anything else you would like to mention?


In my opinion, I don’t recommend working full time alongside a distance learning master’s.  It is a lot of stress to handle for 2-3 years solid.  I would consider a PG-Dip as a cheaper option as well – it still counts as being qualified but there is no need to write (or pay to study for) a dissertation.


The trainee programme is a very good way to find out if a library career is for you, and also serves as an excellent foundation for future library work.


I really benefitted from my trainee year, and I would urge anyone considering it to do it! I moved down from Glasgow for it, which was a fairly big move for me, but I had such a good year, and I am always keeping an eye on jobs at the Bodleian in case my circumstances change and I have the opportunity to move back!


For some bonus content, feel free to check out Duncan, Gabrielle and Jenna’s introductory posts to the Bodleian Libraries here:





A Day in the Life (Old Bodleian Library)

As the trainee for the Old Bodleian, I am privileged with the unique experience of working in one of the biggest, and most well-known, academic libraries in Oxford. With so many collections held within one library, navigating this beautiful building can prove complex, but it definitely makes my role interesting!

A view of the entrance, featuring a statue of the Earl of Pembroke
The main entrance into the Old Bodleian Library

Working as part of a relatively small team in such a large library, I am typically based across multiple reading rooms within a single day, which allows me to complete a variety of different library tasks. This academic year, the Old Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera have started to merge duties (as we work within one complex), so a lot of roles are shared across the two libraries. To coordinate these responsibilities and work cohesively as a team, our work day is organised by a site wide rota, which I find hugely beneficial.

Today I am based solely in the Old Bodleian side of the building, but for insight into some of my duties in the Radcliffe Camera (namely work on the reception desk, circulation desk and scanning), take a look at this blog post from the History Faculty trainee: A Day in the Life (History Faculty Library) | Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees.

8:42 – Arrive and open up

I arrive at the Old Bodleian, lock my bike up and head in to start opening up my designated reading room. Everyone is responsible for preparing a specific room in the morning, which changes on a weekly basis. This morning I am opening up the Upper Reading Room, which involves opening the windows, switching on the computers and PCAS (Printing, Copying and Scanning) machine, spacing out the ladders evenly around the room, shelving material from the previous day and completing the lapse list.

3 piles of 4 blue book totes
Transit boxes filled and ready to be collected

The lapse list is an automated list of all the books due to be returned to their permanent location at the offsite storage facility. In the morning, we print off the list and then navigate the Self-Collect bays, collecting overdue items and piling them on to a trolley to be scanned. Once all the books have been collected, we scan them into Aleph (our internal circulation system), which removes the item from the reader’s account and marks the item as in transit.

We then send the trolleys of in transit books down in the lift to the delivery room, to be packaged into transit boxes by another member of staff.

9:00 – Main Enquiry Desk

As readers start to arrive, I am situated at the Main Enquiry Desk, in the Lower Reading Room. My role at this desk is to answer enquiries in person, by phone and via email. The Main Enquiry Desk is aptly named, as we receive all enquiries concerning the Bodleian Libraries, which can lead to some interesting and complex questions. Enquiries on the phone/by email can range from requesting guidance on how to gain admission to the library, suggestions of resources for purchase, issues with accessing SOLO and requests for help to navigate online databases, all the way through to tracking down obscure titles and ordering material in advance of a visit. It feels extremely satisfying to resolve an issue, though it is sometimes best to forward the email on to a more informed department, or ask a colleague for their opinion. In person, enquiries typically revolve around navigation (finding and ordering books, locating open shelf material, using the self-collect bays), or technical issues (resetting passwords, using PCAS machines, connecting to the WiFi).

The Main Enquiry Desk in the left hand corner, with a view of the reference shelves, computers and self collect bays
The Main Enquiry Desk in the Reference Room

Alongside answering enquiries, this morning I am scheduled to complete Library Triaging, which I can complete at my desk and is a crucial part of the Scan and Deliver service offered by the Bodleian Libraries. Scan requests are first sorted by a Central Triage team member, who checks that the request is within copyright and not available elsewhere, before sending the request through to the specific library that holds a copy of the book. The Library Triage team member (my role today) then checks to ensure that their library is able to fulfil the request, before sending the request into the scanning queue. Although this process sounds complicated, it allows requests to be streamlined and actioned as quickly as possible.


10:10 – Break

For my morning break, I typically head down to the Reader Common Room, where I can sit and read my book, or complete my Duolingo learning for the day!


Three shelves of books in the Interlibrary Loan cupboard
The Interlibrary Loan cupboard

10:30 – Main Enquiry Desk

En route back to the desk, I check the noticeboards in the stairways. I am responsible for keeping them up-to-date and organised, so once a week I make sure to remove old posters and add new notices, as required.

Back at the desk, I continue to respond to enquiries in the inbox, sort out Library Scan and Deliver requests and resolve reader issues. Today, we have a larger number of Interlibrary Loans than usual, so I spend some time organising the cupboard so that items are easy to locate. As these books are on loan to us from another academic institution, we take extra care to ensure that these materials are looked after, and that readers are aware of the restrictions associated with consulting these items.

When the desk is quieter, I am able to work on one of my background tasks. Today I am using some rare free time to work on updating the library directory, which allows us to contact relevant individuals and departments as required. It is important that this list is kept up to date, to reflect current departmental breakdowns.


The reception desk
The reception desk

12:00 – Proscholium

My last shift before lunch is on the North Proscholium. Essentially a fancy word for reception area, this task involves sitting at the front desk and greeting people as they enter the library. I always enjoy the opportunity to interact with readers, and this is often the stage where you find students looking slightly lost, so it is a good time to reassure them that the Bod isn’t quite as intimidating as it first seems!


13:00 – Lunch

Oxford city centre is an excellent location for lunch, with a multitude of cafes and tea shops to peruse. Typically, I will bring my own lunch and find a pretty spot to sit in (slightly challenging during the winter months when it is tempting to stay inside), however once a week, the History Faculty trainee and I meet up to try out one of the cafes that we have spotted. A favourite haunt is the Covered Market, conveniently located and sporting a variety of delicious cuisines.


14:00 – Book Delivery

Delivery van parked in the Old School Quad, pulled up to the delivery bay
Delivery van parked in the Old School Quad

In the afternoon, the book delivery van arrives from the BSF, bringing all of the requested items from offsite storage. In order to prepare for its arrival, I pick up the gate key from security and head to the delivery room to put on my hi-vis jacket. After finding my colleague, we head onto Catte Street to meet the delivery van and lead them into Radcliffe Square. We unload and reload the books for the Radcliffe Camera first, before returning to the Old Bodleian to guide the van into the Old School Quad (making sure to avoid the tourists)! The Old Bodleian receives about 65% of the books ordered from the BSF (Book Storage Facility), so we are kept very busy, with between ten and twenty boxes of books to process per delivery. Once all the books have been scanned into Aleph and assigned to the reader, we organise the books alphabetically on the trolley and send them up in the lift to be placed on the Self-Collect bays, ready for the readers to consult.


15:10 – Break

I typically take my afternoon break back in the common room, or if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, a trip over to Blackwell’s to browse the latest additions (the staff discount doesn’t hurt)!

A view down the length of the Upper Reading Room, including the shelves, desks, computers and beautiful pink ceiling
Upper Reading Room


15:30 – URR and off desk tasks

To end the afternoon, I am based back in the Upper Reading Room. As well as providing general help to readers, typical tasks carried out in this space include processing new books and periodicals, carrying out stock checks, supporting readers with tech/PCAS issues, the provision of equipment, and helping with the navigation of collections. When I am not scheduled for anything specific, I tend to use this time to complete my own library projects. As it is not too busy today, and my colleagues are happy for me to remove myself from the Reading Room, I head down to the Lower Gladstone Link, to spend time relabelling the high demand collection, which I find extremely therapeutic after a busy day.


17:00 – Finish up and head home

My work day finishes at 5pm, but there is no need for a closing routine as the Old Bodleian Library is open till 9pm, so I hand off to the evening team and get ready to head home … or to meet the trainees for some much-needed ice cream!

An Introduction to Early Printing at The Bodleian

large wooden reproduction letterpress in the Bodleian workshop
Reproduction 17th-century printing press. This press uses leather ink balls to transfer ink to the form

Here’s a fun fact you might not know – since 1949, the Bodleian Library has maintained a range of presses for the purposes of teaching practical printing. On 23rd February, we were given a much-anticipated peek behind the Schola Musicae door in the Old Schools Quad, home of the Bodleian’s letterpress workshop. As library trainees, the focus of our session was early book printing, giving us an insight into the various processes that would have gone into producing the early printed books that some of us are lucky enough to work with as part of our libraries’ special collections. For purposes of numbers, we were split into two groups; one taking a morning session with Alex Franklin and the other an afternoon session with Richard Lawrence.

Over the three-hour session, we were introduced to three types of printing (letterpress, intaglio and planographic).

Letterpress Printing

The star of the show was the letterpress printing and we got the opportunity to create our own prints. Firstly, we had an overview of the principles of printing and how letterpress printing works, then we got to have a go ourselves!


Arranging the Type

Each set, or ‘font,’ of type is kept in a specially-compartmentalised trays (upper and lower cases), with a layout designed to make it easier to reach for the most commonly-used letters. Having divided up our chosen text, we were each stationed at a font and given a small composing stick to set our type in. Piecing a sentence together from reversed letters takes some getting used to — it’s easy to miss a spelling error or upside-down letter until the proofs have been printed. We worked from left-to-right, using the handy nicks in each piece of type to make sure every piece was pointing the right way.

sectioned wooden trays of metal printing type
Type cases of Caslon 12-point type

There is a lot to consider regarding the size of the font and the length of the lines on the pages, the size of the margins… many of the calculations were in fractions of an inch and made our minds boggle! 1/2 inch equals 72 points (the same as font sizes on computers); therefore 1 point equals 1/72 inch. You can see from the image below that our composing sticks had been set to 22 inches, as the 12 point font we were using would fit into it without any gaps remaining — or so we hoped!

Since any wiggle room could allow the type to shift or come loose during printing, we also used metal spacers to fill in the gaps between words and the ends of the lines, using a variety of pieces to keep everything in place as tightly as possible. Alex told us that a group of English MSt students recently visited to set extracts from M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong in type as a way of considering the text’s interweaving of blank spaces on the page and silenced voices in history. As we learned through setting our own phrases, those empty sections require just as much time and attention as the letters themselves. Richard also discussed the influence of the printer on how a manuscript becomes a printed book. For instance, Mary Shelley’s manuscript of Frankenstein has very little punctuation; this would have been added by the typesetters and printers. What does this mean for interpreting a text?

hand holding metal compositing stick containing upside-down metal type
Composing stick and metal type

Once we had finished composing our lines of type, they were secured within a printing frame (forme) by an assortment of wooden blocks (furniture). Since these also have to be tightly fitted (lest we end up with type all over the floor en route to the press), this included pieces that could be expanded or loosened with a small key (quoins). Finally, our type was all set and ready to be used for printing.


Using the Presses

The workshop had many examples of presses that are used for education and for the study of printing and the history of the book. We had a brief demonstration of early printing on a reproduction sixteenth-century printing press, based upon a drawing by Albrecht Dürer. For our printing, we used a Harrild & Sons Albion Press of 1877, originally from Leonard Baskin’s Gehenna Press.

Metal type being inked using a roller
Inking the type

The first step in using the press was preparing our ink. Thick, tacky, and oil-based, it resembled shoe polish or treacle when first scooped out of the container. Although historical methods would call for round leather ink balls, we used a plastic roller to spread it out in an even layer, ensuring the full surface of the roller had been covered. The reason being that the leather ink balls aren’t very economical with ink when you are only printing up a small amount because much of the ink is absorbed by the leather.

Once the block had been inked and the paper positioned and protected from stray ink by a paper fisket, the whole bed was rolled under the flat weight (platen). A quick pull of the operating handle pressed the paper firmly against the inked block, and then it was time for the moment of truth! Examining our proof copies gave us a chance to catch typos and adjust block placements before setting up the printmaking production line in earnest.

Both groups had submitted some initial ideas for their prints in advance. The morning group presented a motley assortment of flowers, cats, and Vasily Grossman, and the afternoon group opted for some classic Tolkien quotes and imagery. Alex took the morning group’s ideas and used them to produce a risograph image incorporating pictures from the Bodleian’s Fox Talbot collection, which we then printed over with lines from Tom Lovatt-Williams’ poem ‘Oxford,’ while the afternoon group paired one of the quotes with a pre-made block of the Oxford skyline.


a metal tray is slide under the antique metal press and a hand pulls a lever to take a press
Pulling the press

Intaglio Printing

The workshop holds a variety of presses, and some of us also had the chance to try our hand at using a 19th-century star-wheel etching press for some intaglio printing.

While relief printing involves inking the raised parts of the block, intaglio is almost the opposite: the design is engraved into the plate, and, once the plate has been inked and wiped clean, the image is produced by the ink that remains in these lines.

The plate and paper are tucked beneath layers of blankets, which are then pushed through a set of heavy rollers by turning the wheel. That extra weight helps press the fibres of the paper into the texture of the plate, increasing the accuracy of the print. Dampening the paper helps this process. The result is a fine-lined image, perhaps with some shadowing from residual ink on the surface of the plate.

This section raised some questions about the replicable nature of printing – if someone was to make a print from an original etching by a renowned artist such as Rembrandt, would they then have produced a Rembrandt? Our general consensus was no: even the most historically accurate reproduction would still lack the inimitable individual touch applied through processes such as adjusting placements or applying and wiping away ink.


Planographic Printing

Richard also showed the afternoon group a stone used for lithography, a form of planographic printmaking which uses water- and ink-repelling substances on a flat printing surface to create the final image.


Final Prints


We all really enjoyed the session, and some of us hope to take up Alex and Richard’s offer to return to the workshop at some point in the future.


Recommended Books

We were recommended the following books by our workshop leaders, for those who have been bitten by the printing bug and want to find out more:

More Information

A time for reflection

With the holidays fast approaching, decorations have started to appear in the Libraries and a festive spirit is in the air. For some of our Graduate Library Trainees, it has been the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year so far, and talk about some of the highlights of their role.


Heather Barr, St Edmund HallA painting of the front of the Library, covered in snow, drawn from the opposite side of the Quad

We brought Christmas to St Edmund Hall’s Old Library this year with a display of books and archive materials with fun festive facts and college celebrations throughout the years. Our display includes beautiful wintery paintings, including one of Teddy Hall’s Front Quad in Snow (1966), given to Principal Kelly by the artist, Alexandra Troubetzkoy (see right)Our Old Library is home to the first scientific publication to interrogate the shape of snowflakes (see left): Johannes Kepler’s C. Maiestmathematici strena seu De niue sexangula (1611) (SEH Shelfmark 4° G 18(6)).

Three scientific drawings of different aspects of snowflakes

Kepler conjectures that they must be formed as such to optimise their tessellation, like a honeycomb. Or, perhaps there is some quality in the water that causes them to freeze in their signature hexagonal shape? Most importantly, he identifies a link between the shape of snowflakes and other crystalline formations in rocks.A photograph of two Christmas cards from Principal Emden’s Collection

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some cards! We showcased Christmas cards from the Archives, collected and saved by Principal Emden during the Second World War (see right)These cards were sent from all over the world, including from H.M.S. Satellite, a naval ship in the middle of the ocean. Some have rather topical designs, such as a bull charging Hitler, or the three wise men being guided by a shining Intelligence Corps crest! Today, these cards serve a positive reminder that even in the midst of worldwide suffering and disaster, small messages of hope and love can go a long way.


Izzie Salter, Sackler Library

As term draws to a close, the Sackler Library has become quieter and quieter. Between issuing books on the main desk, my colleague and I have donned it with decorations. Crafted out of library paraphernalia – who knew archival tying tape could be so versatile – I hope this has brought some cheer to our more loyal readers, staying here until closure. To those based locally to the Sackler, do walk past the Ashmolean one evening. It looks beautiful this time of year.

My first term as a trainee has been wonderfully varied. I have been so fortunate to work on some amazing projects at the library, as well as spending time learning alongside my fellow trainees. A few highlights of this term include presenting Japanese photography books (which I have researched regularly over the past 3 months) at the History of Art Show and Tell, working with the trainees to produce Black History reading recommendations, and learning about conservation and special collections at the Weston Library. I can’t wait to see what the new year brings, after a restful Christmas break.

[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]


Jemima Bennett, New College LibraryA decorated Christmas tree, a snowman formed out of books and a trolley of books individually wrapped in Christmas paper

New College Library Christmas started particularly early, even by Oxford standards, as by mid-November we had begun to put together a Christmas exhibition, and our Twitter advent calendar, choosing items and writing captions. I have also spent several very enjoyable afternoons wrapping books for our Surprise Christmas Loan scheme, as well as decorating our Christmas tree, and helping create an iconic book sculpture (pictured here). This term has been a blast – a wide-ranging and really relevant set of training sessions, an excellent trainee cohort, and being able to work with such beautiful manuscripts are definitely some highlights.


Lucy Davies, Social Science Library

A selection of staff, wearing festive jumpers and masks in the libraryAt the SSL, we got into the Christmas mood by celebrating Christmas Jumper Day. Wearing our best festive jumpers (and masks!), we raised £142 for Save the Children. A highlight of this term has been the training sessions every week and gaining an insight into all the different jobs within the Bodleian Libraries. I especially loved the trip to the Conservation Studio at the Weston Library! I also really enjoy seeing the variety of books that arrive from the BSF every day and talking to readers about their research.


Georgie Moore, St John’s College Library

If you are following any Libraries, Museums, or Archives on Twitter, you’ll probably have noticed the annual December deluge of Christmassy content.

Outside of term time, I’m responsible for scheduling one Tweet a week, so I have been prowling our catalogue for festive material. Drafting a Tweet was part of the application process for this Trainee position, but even still I didn’t realise quite how much thought goes into maintaining a consistent tone and diversity of content.

A page of advertisements from the Mugby Junction journal, featuring ads for Epps’s Cocoa, Keating’s Cough Lozenges, Manfield’s Patent Pickles, and various more
Credit: Georgie Moore

Here are three of the tweet ideas that didn’t make the cut in December (and why not):

1. A Christmas Carol is a festive favourite for many, but Charles Dickens also contributed other seasonal stories to volumes like Mugby Junction: the extra Christmas number of All the year round (Vet.Engl.76). The small font and lack of illustrations aren’t very eye-catching for a Twitter photograph, but these advertisements provide a wintery window into Victorian buying habits: juvenile gift books, patented pickles and miniature billiards. (see left)

A passage from the mock-sermon
Credit: Dominic Hewett

2. ‘The Exaltation of Christmas Pye’ – this might be cheating, but the only reason I haven’t shared this is because I didn’t find it! There are some highly quotable moments in this 17th-century mock-sermon (HB4/3.a.5.8(23)) such as when the author elevates the invention of

Christmas plum pies to the same level as ‘Guns and Printing’.

An illustration from a medieval manuscript, depicting a hooded figure emerging from a vivid blue and brown plant, on a background of twisting vines and flowers
Credit: Georgie Moore

3. The Psalter (MS 82) includes some beautiful medieval illustrations. I’d wanted to caption this ‘When the waiter brings the final bill to the table after the work Christmas do’ but given the cancellation of so many Christmas parties this festive season, that felt like rubbing salt in the wound. (see left)


The angel on top of the tree, knitted with white wool and gold embellishmentsJosie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library

Although I enjoy handling books as much as the next librarian, a surprising highlight for me has been working with various forms of online resource provision. (This is perhaps less surprising to anyone who has had to listen to me talk about scanning recently). From tracking down resources for reading lists and LibGuides to navigating copyright restrictions and exploring the UK Web Archive, I’ve really enjoyed my traineeship so far, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved with certain areas in the new year. During a recent weekend shift, I was entrusted with decorating the LawBod Christmas tree – pictured is our resident angel, which I’m told was handmade by a previous trainee.


Sophie Lay, English Faculty Library

J. R. R. Tolkien and Nevill Coghill have donned now their gay apparel – the former in a classic Santa hat and the latter in a crown of golden holly tinsel – and the festive season has fully hit the English Faculty Library. As Graduate Trainee, it’s my job to decorate the library with the aforementioned festive headgear, as well as paper chains, miniature Christmas trees, and seasonal rubber ducks to join our regular desk companion, Bill Shakespeare.

The end of term has also left a little more time for reflection on the past few months. I’d be delighted to share with you just one of the parts of my job that I’ve enjoyed the most since starting here at Bodleian Libraries. A page from a facsimile of Dicken’s manuscript, with his own edits and recognisable signatureA page from a facsimile of Dicken’s manuscript, with his own edits and recognisable signatureNot to be incredibly corny, but interactions with readers really do add a delightful element to your average desk-shift. From friendly and familiar faces to unexpected compliments to charming lost-and-found items (including returning a child’s hand-written note which read ‘momy I luv yoo’), there is so much joy to be had in interacting with readers.

I’ll leave you off with a final festive treat. I’ve done some digging through the rare book room and have uncovered a little treasure. While it’s not the genuine article, we do have a delightful facsimile of Dicken’s original manuscript for A Christmas Carol, in his own handwriting and with his own edits – including his signature looping and cross-hatching. Just holding it makes me feel more festive!


Emily Main, History Faculty Library

Barriers lining the path to the Radcliffe Camera reader entrance, with a crane and Warner Brothers van in the backgroundThe end of term was definitely noticeable in the library as students started heading home for their holidays. However, the arrival of Warner Brothers and the closure of the Upper Camera for filming has made for an interesting end before the Christmas closure. As well as being dazzled by extremely bright lights when sitting at reception and dodging crowds of fans, we’ve had to implement a book fetching service for books in the Upper Camera and trundle our BSF book crates on a circuitous route through the Old Bod and Gladstone Link! I have loved getting to know the trainees and the team here and enjoyed the variety of my role. A highlight of the role for me has been answering enquiries of readers that require me to dive into a search and investigate their question, for example, in helping them to locate primary resources.


Ben Elliott, Pembroke College LibraryThe Old Quad in a little snow

Christmas is here, and it is time to reflect. This term has flown by, but it’s been a good one. Pembroke’s library consists of the librarian, me and the archivist and because it is a small team it has meant my traineeship has been distinctly unique and varied. For instance, I have delivered a library induction to visiting fellows from Pembroke’s ‘The Changing Character of War Centre’ which involved talking to a room of senior military officers and a UN advisor… definitely not daunting at all! As well, I have met some truly fascinating and brilliantly eccentric individuals along the way, some even coming as far as from Utah.

The Christmas tree standing sentry next to the entrance of the ChapelIt’s been particularly fun getting acquainted with Pembroke’s special collections, rare books and art collection and sharing them with students through object sessions and talks… especially when a talk discusses a naturalist’s book in our collection which attempts to convince readers that the platypus is, in fact, a real animal despite it looking odd!

Working with the college art has been brilliant. Inspecting the conditions of the college oil paintings with a freelance art conservator and the college archivist was a highlight. Staring at a painting of a 19th-century fellow whilst listening to ghost stories of said fellow is a moment I never expected in this job, but an enjoyable surprise, nonetheless.


Juliet Brown, Old Bodleian Library

A view of the Old School Quadrangle Christmas tree, in front of the entrance to the Library, above which is the window to Duke Humfrey'sAs the year draws to a close, it is nice to see everyone getting excited about the holiday season. The decorations have gone up in the Bod, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Old School Quadrangle Christmas tree in pride of place.

Four bookshelves, with a small Christmas tree placed on the third shelf

As everyone gets ready to head home for the holidays, it is also a nice time to reflect on my first few months at the Old Bod, and the experiences that have shaped my role as the trainee in this incredible building. I have been very lucky to work within an incredibly supportive team, who put up with my constant questions and have made me feel at home in my new role. As the Old Bod trainee, I have been very fortunate in having an extremely varied working schedule. From duties in reader services (answering enquiries, issuing and returning books, leading tours, shelving, assisting with book deliveries, completing book scans), through to the more technical aspects of the role (helping with interlibrary loans, book processing, preparing books for repair, relabelling), my role has allowed me to complete an extremely diverse range of tasks. In addition, my manager has been keen for me to take on my own responsibilities, which have included designing new posters for the Lower Gladstone Link, creating instructional sheets for the evening team and rehoming a cupboard of abandoned books.

A highlight of the traineeship is the opportunity to take part in sessions designed to expand our knowledge about the various areas that make up librarianship. We have learnt about the technical skills needed for cataloguing, the complex world of Open Access, the importance of social media skills, and discovered the digital tools available to students and researchers at the University. In addition, the traineeship has allowed us to visit the Weston (for an insight into the role of the conservation team and special collections) and even spent an afternoon at the BSF.

I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings, both in terms of training and with my role, after a very restful break at home with my family, dog and lots of good food.