Tag Archives: Oxford Union

Elizabeth Piper, Oxford Union Society Library

Good morrow! I’m Elizabeth and I’m the trainee at the Oxford Union Society Library.

It’s an older photo sir, but it checks out…

The Union is cunningly hidden off Cornmarket Street with another entrance on St. Michael’s Street and acts rather like a private club for its’ members- people come here to work away from colleges or distractions from roommates and the like, although the Union bar is in the room next door so distractions are never that far away! The library houses about 46,000 books which makes it one of Oxford’s smaller libraries, but it makes up for that with some incredible murals and a painted ceiling from the pre-Raphaelites showing scenes from Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur. Unlike other libraries, it holds the largest collection of travel guides and fiction (outside of the Bodleian, naturally!), but unlike the Bod, all of these are borrowable.

Oxford Union Society Library

This is the Old Library which was the old Debating Chamber and now the Main Library

There are four of us who work here and we have the luxury to have an actual office just off the library, so we’re allowed tea at our desks! This is a luxury I never had when working in Christ Church, where I worked for a few years in the Main Library, and also producing an item-level catalogue for one of the special collections called The Portal Papers which is a collection from the Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Air Force from World War Two. These are the papers that really sparked my interest in libraries. I had previously served in the RAF and seeing how records that were classified as Top Secret had been protected and kept hidden away, just waiting for a time when they were able to be used and read again is absolutely fascinating to me. Some of the papers had not been looked at since Portal looked at them and finding that information for the first time just hiding in plain sight in a grey or blue archival box looking completely innocuous on a shelf is, I think, quite exciting. And that is just one collection- knowing that libraries are full of collections just like this just waiting to be found made me apply for the Masters programme in Library and Information Studies at Aberystwyth which I am currently doing via distance learning at the moment.

Sir Lancelot mural

Nice detail of the murals

My days in the library are generally spent learning super in-depth how to catalogue, although there are other duties as well. I am the minutes secretary for the Library Committee which decides which books should be kept and which to be withdrawn- there is a “one-in: one-out” policy when it comes to acquisitions here. The members are in charge of our policies, budgets and acquisitions as a general rule, and members can range from a first-year undergraduate to a senior life-member who has been a part of the Union for the last seventy years. It is a style of management I haven’t come across before in Oxford libraries. The other bonus to working here is getting to go to the debates or to hear the speaker events- only recently, I got to see Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle while they were at the Union which was incredibly exciting.

All in all, this is a great place to work! 🙂