A Day in the Life of the Oxford Union Trainee

9.15am   I arrive and help my colleagues open up the Library. This involves a lot of light switches, unlocking various doors and drawers using a wide selection of keys and provides the rare treat of enjoying a moment or two in the Old Library all by yourself: an amazing chance to glance up and marvel at the Pre-Raphaelite murals and William Morris painted ceiling. If I’m honest, working here has ruined my expectations for workplace interior décor…

The Old Library

I check the returns box for any overnight deposits and scan them in, sorting books for reshelving. Then it is time to check emails and ensure everything is ready to go for when the readers start to arrive at 9.30am.

9.30am   During term time, I’m either on desk duty for the morning or afternoon. This gives me a chance to get on with processing and classifying any new books, before adding them on SOLO – a job that is easy to break away from to help students with any enquiries or to loan and return books. Members of the public who wish to visit the murals also come to the library desk as their first port of call. During the vacation, we offer talks to groups on the history of the murals – I’ve recently given my first one, which was quite nerve-wracking but actually very enjoyable once I got into the swing of it! During term-time though, we only allow small groups to visit so that they don’t disturb the readers. Each visitor gets a little pamphlet to allow them to self-guide, or they can hire one of our brilliant audio guides, which will give them a much fuller history.

11.00am   Tea! We all stop work for a cup of tea and a chat (and a chocolate or two if anyone has been on holiday recently!) This is great as it allows us to catch up with each other, and to bounce ideas or questions around as well.

1.00pm   Lunch. Nom. During term time we can have soup or a sandwich from the Union bar, which is brilliant; however, during vacation time I have to remember to a) make my lunch before leaving home, and b) remember to put said lunch in my bag and actually bring it in to work with me. I am not always successful.

1.30pm   Back to work. If I’m back at my desk then there is always lots to do – I have several ongoing projects, such as organising the shelf-labelling (we’ve done some book moving recently), labelling books that myself or the others have added to SOLO, or I might have a new display to create to communicate to our members. I will also take the time to work on entering data into the Union History Database – there are so many events at the Union that this can take quite a long time! So far, I’ve managed to upload three full year’s worth of events – only another 190 years’ worth to go…

2.15pm   During term time, we have weekly Library Committee meetings. Made up of Union members, both junior (undergraduates) and senior (postgrads and members who are no longer at uni), this is chaired by the Junior Librarian, an elected officer. I serve as the Minutes Secretary, so every Monday it is up to me to prepare the papers for the meeting. These consist of book lists, DVD lists, suggestions from members, lists of books being considered for withdrawal, and any other agenda items, such as the complaints book, or reports on a particular aspect of the library’s work. I take the minutes during the meeting, and am then responsible for typing them up and distributing them to the committee members afterwards. It is quite a lot of work, but it is great to have so much reader involvement in the library.

3.30pm   Tea! You can never have too much tea.

4.00pm   During the vacation period I might do some shelving, as our shelver only works during term time. We also do half an hour each of shelf-tidying a week. This helps to keep the library looking fabulous, but also helps us to find any books that have been misplaced, or to re-label any that aren’t easy for readers to see.

5.00pm   Home! Unless it is a Tuesday during term time, in which case it is my turn for evening duty. We each do one day a week during the term, keeping the library open till 7.00pm. This is especially useful for the readers in Trinity term when they are studying for exams – I always feel a little mean for turfing them out in order to lock up!

Working at the Oxford Union is wonderful, because though it is a relatively small space, the fact that we lend our books means that it is always busy with readers. Being part of a small team has also meant that I have been able to get involved with lots of different areas of work, so I feel that I have learnt an awful lot in quite a short space of time. I will continue to work here for the next two years, whilst studying for the MA at UCL – and I’m really looking forward to it!

Diana Hackett, Oxford Union Library

Hello, I’m Diana and I’m the trainee at the Oxford Union Society Library. I did a BA and MA in English Literature at the University of Sheffield, graduating in 2007, and have since been working in theatre PR. The graduate trainee scheme is a bit of a change of career direction, but offered me the chance to fulfil an ambition I thought had long since passed me by!

The Oxford Union Library is for members of the Union Society and our holdings are determined by the wishes of our members. We have Library Committee meetings every week during term time to discuss what will be added to the collection, which consists largely of academic materials, but with a strong leisure reading section too, including an extensive collection of travel guides, and an ever-growing stock of DVDs.

The building itself is pretty special, featuring the famed Pre-Raphaelite murals on the gallery walls of the Old Library. Anyone can come and visit the murals for a small fee, and we have a steady stream of visitors coming in every day to see them. My predecessor has created a fabulous audio guide for them too, which you can hire or download to give you a little more of the story behind these wonderful paintings. I’ll be using it to ensure I know all the answers to any visitor questions…Oxford Union Library - Gallery and Murals

I’m really looking forward to this year. Though I was initially worried about being too old and no longer having a properly functioning brain, the training so far has been really interesting and I’m beginning to get the hang of things (slowly…). It is wonderful to be working in such a unique environment, and in a library with such a varied collection, whilst also having the opportunity to meet and chat with the other trainees, and learn from their experiences too.

Evelyn Webster, Oxford Union Library

Hello! My name’Oxford Union Library - Gallery and Muralss Evelyn, I’m the trainee for the Oxford Union Library. I graduated in 2009, having studied Linguistics at York, then spent a year as an English teaching assistant in Japan, followed by a season working as a Tudor waitress and a Victorian shop girl for the National Trust (costumes sadly not required).

I’ve worked part-time in various public libraries from the age of sixteen until I finished university, gradually climbing from ‘shelving assistant’ to ‘counter and shelving assistant’ to full-blown ‘library assistant’. I’m very excited, and very lucky, to be beginning my career in Oxford, in such a beautiful library. I’m hoping I can be a useful asset to the Union, get stuck in with everything from cataloguing to minute-taking to wrestling with the new circulation system – and with any luck I’ll learn a lot in the process.

Trainee project showcase – Playground of politics: writing a brief history of the Oxford Union

Here is another of the presentations from Wednesday’s showcase.

It begins with a little history of the Union to give some of the context for presentation. Then you will find some slides about my project, writing a brief history of the Oxford Union to sell in the Library. Finally, for the library admirers among you, I spoke about, and included some pictures of the Old Library and its murals.

If you are reading this, will be working in Oxford in September, and fancy a spot of library tourism, do come along to the Explore visit, organised by Bodleian Libraries Staff Development, to see the murals and hear about the particular issues the library faces, on 20 September.

p.s. small landmark: wordpress informs me that this is the 100th post on the trainee blog – it says it is dandy!

Cate, Oxford Union Society

I’m Cate and I’m now the graduate trainee in the Oxford Union Society Library. I graduated this summer from Bath after four years of French, German and European Studies and am excited about starting my career here in Oxford. So far I’m finding there is quite a steep learning curve but I am enjoying all the scanning, stamping and shelving – which, apart from the shelving, are all the kind of jobs I used to find exciting when I was about six, and still do! I’m really looking forward to the varied nature of the year to come and, like Clare, to term time when the library will hopefully be full of people. I may not being saying the same then though!

Do drop me a line if you’d like to know more about the Union or its library!

Adrienne Cooper, Oxford Union Society Library

Adrienne Hello!  My name is Adrienne, and I am the current graduate trainee at the Oxford Union Society Library.  Previously, I was a digitisation assistant in the University of Warwick Library.  As part of a pilot programme, I scanned book and journal extracts under the Copyright Licencing Agency’s Higher Education Licence, and answered emailed and faced enquiries from students, academics, and library staff.  Warwick University is my alma mater where I read Philosophy and Literature.  I first became interested in librarianship as a career whilst researching an essay about the concept of the library in literary epistemology.

Working in the Oxford Union Library is all I could have wished for in a traineeship. I am honing my professional skills in an august institution that has dedicated itself historically to the personal and intellectual development of its readers – often controversially so.  It is a beautiful library that holds a diverse and dynamic collection; from antiquarian books to the latest DVD releases.  Being part of a small team means that I get to take part in a variety of frontline and ‘behind-the-scenes’ duties everyday: helping readers, classifying and cataloguing new stock, preservation work, and acting as the secretary for the Library Committees.  It is that level of direct involvement in the running of the library which drew me to the position initially, and is already proving to be very rewarding.

Taking part in the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainee Programme is a wonderful opportunity to meet other library and information paraprofessionals, and to learn about the various projects they are involved in across the university.