Hello! I’m Arabella, the graduate trainee for the History Faculty Library, based within the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link. Previously, while studying BA English at the University of Exeter I volunteered within Penryn Campus library, an experience I enjoyed so much that I decided to work within both school and council libraries after graduating. The Bodleian Library Graduate Trainee Scheme, which offers regular training sessions alongside the chance to work within a prestigious university library, seemed like a wonderful opportunity to expand on this experience and discover what specific aspects of librarianship I find most interesting and wish to pursue further. Also, who wouldn’t want to work in a city as beautiful and historic as Oxford?!
Throughout my first month within the Radcliffe Camera I have been learning lots of new procedures, such asScan and Deliver, Click and Collect and how to navigate and process items on the library management system. I’m also regularly timetabled on the reception and circulation desks, where I help to sign readers into the building and deal with enquiries. Fortunately, my lovely colleagues in the Camera are always nearby to help should I require it.
Now Michaelmas Term has commenced the library is beginning to get busier, however, I am continuing to learn new things. This week I have been assigned the task of selecting and processing the HFL books that are being sent off to binding to be repaired.
I’ve really been enjoying my Oxford experience so far and I’m very excited to see what the rest of the year has in store!
This year, many Graduate Library Trainees expressed an interest in shadowing a fellow trainee from another Oxford library. Colleagues from Bodleian Staff Development worked to facilitate this and fortunately Leanne and I were able to spend an afternoon at one another’s workplace. Leanne is the Graduate Library Trainee at Christ Church (ChCh), one of Oxford University’s largest colleges, while I’m the trainee at the Radcliffe Camera, home to the Bodleian’s History Faculty Library (HFL).
The nature of each traineeship can vary considerably depending on the remit of the library, its size and the nature of its collections. These differences are magnified when the logistical and operational nuances distinct to each library are accounted for. Shadowing at another library provides an opportunity to experience these differences in context, to consider some of the factors impacting other library services and to critically reflect on the practices of the libraries we normally work in.
After our afternoons of shadowing were over, we decided to write a joint blog post to recount our experiences, using a Q and A as the basis for encapsulating our opinions. Suffice to say we had fun!
Why did you want to shadow at the library you chose?
Ross Jones, History Faculty Library: Having spent the majority of my time working and studying in the Bodleian Libraries, I welcomed the opportunity to experience the day to day goings-on of a college library; I wanted to learn about the parameters a college library was expected to operate within and how this might affect the services they are able to provide. Given the familial nature of a college environment, I was also eager to discover what kind of learning cultures a more insular and exclusive library service helps to inspire.
Leanne Grainger, Christ Church Library: As a trainee in a college library I was keen to shadow a trainee within the Bodleian Libraries to find out how the experience differs in a larger library team as well as within the larger Bodleian Libraries’ structure.
What were your first impressions of the library?
Ross says: Friendly and ambitious. Oxford is saturated with historic buildings and architecture of seemingly every kind. This has led me, albeit guiltily, to become a tad indifferent to the awesome facades boasted by the libraries of many of the older Oxford colleges. To me, the most impressive feature of a library is the service it provides and I was struck first and foremost by the welcoming personalities of Christ Church’s library staff and the grand designs they had for improving their service.
Leanne says: Grand. Iconic. Busy – especially considering it was vacation! The History Faculty Library is currently situated in the Radcliffe Camera, a well-known landmark in Oxford, which is beautiful both inside and out. Even though I was shadowing Ross during the vacation it seemed pretty busy and I imagine it is an extremely popular study space within Oxford.
What did you find to be different in comparison to your own library?
Ross says: The book-request service. Having secured a generous budget for purchasing, one of Christ Church College Library’s many strengths is its ability to provide students a significant stake in its Collection Development Policy by allowing them, in a sense, to build a reader-curated collection. If a student needs it and the library doesn’t have it, you can be sure a copy will be bought (within reason of course!). I was amazed to learn that the record time for fulfilling a request was just a matter of hours, with staff going above and beyond to deliver the requested item to the reader at their desk.
Leanne says: That anyone with a reader’s card can use the library! It has a diverse range of readers to cater for, and even has a section of the library that is a laptop free zone for readers to use to get away from the noise of keyboard tapping! As a college, the library is predominantly only for our own students and has no where near as many readers. With a larger team at the HFL, Ross covers the front desk on a rota, usually about 3 hours a day, which is quite a lot less than the half day if not the whole day I usually work at the front desk! A bigger team also seemed to mean that everybody has particular roles and responsibilities, whereas I find I get to do a bit of everything. The HFL also seemed to not be as involved in acquisitions and cataloguing as at ChCh, as these are done centrally within Bodleian Libraries.
What did you find to be the same in comparison to your own library?
Ross says: The day to day challenges of working in an 18th century building. Where spiral staircases and galleries abound there will invariably be a multitude of issues with running a modern library service. Facilitating access for mobility-impaired readers, shelving in precarious positions and struggling with antique furniture and fixtures were all too familiar aspects of library work at Christ Church.
Leanne says: I feel like I can only think of more differences! However, it was fascinating when similarities popped up. Redirecting tourists at the front desk, rather packed lost property shelves and a Library of Congress classification system were all very familiar! A lot of the routine tasks such as the processing of books felt similar too. The book covering in particular, with book sleeves for dust covers and lamination of paperbacks (but I’d highly recommend commando covers!).
What aspects of shadowing did you enjoy?
Ross says: The variety of environments. With Christ Church boasting an upper and lower library, a separate 24-hour Law library, the Allestree Library, a variety of rare book rooms and an archive room hidden away at the top of a tower, it’s a wonder Leanne and the rest of the team manage to keep on top of it all! With everything as spaced out as it is, I imagine resources are stretched pretty thin at times, but having a backstage pass to it all for the day made for a truly enchanting experience.
Leanne says: I really enjoyed exploring the space and learning about the HFL being a library within a library – the HFL doesn’t own the space it’s in, the Bodleian does! This has drawbacks in terms of having space to expand into, which is a huge issue even for libraries with their own space. There is overlapping of the HFL collections and the Bodleian Library collections in the Gladstone Link, which is underneath the Radcliffe Camera and between the two libraries, which was interesting to get my head around! I enjoyed getting to be a part of the daily delivery of books from the off-site store at Swindon, there are some interesting things that get delivered. I also like that I was able to process a new book that now has its shelfmark written inside in my handwriting.
What benefits do you feel are unique to the trainee role of the library you visited?
Ross says: As Leanne says, working at a college library tends to involve a little bit of everything. At the History Faculty Library, where roles are more compartmentalised, my main focus is Reader Services and this means chances to work with bibliographic records are few and far between. At Christ Church, Leanne often creates and edits holdings records, which is a useful transferable skill to have when it comes to pursuing a career in libraries!
Leanne says: The trainee project that Ross has taken on this year I feel highlights a unique aspect to the HFL – that it is a subject specific library in History. Ross is looking into improving the provision and accessibility of the History set texts, which I think is a useful and transferable experience. For example, Ross has carried out a survey of the students who need to use these texts to find out more about how and if they use them. I especially feel that the most unique feature of being a trainee at the HFL is it being a library within a library. Learning to navigate the different collections of a shared library space and getting to observe and learn how those collections an d that space is managed I think will be uniquely valuable experience.
What ideas or procedures might you think about implementing in your own library after visiting?
Ross says: Minor cosmetic changes to improve the readability of shelf marks. The library staff at Christ Church have used an ongoing reclassification project as an opportunity to trial some simple and effective ideas to improve the browsing experiences of readers. In retro converting the classification sequences in the lower library to Library of Congress, staff at Christ Church have decided to print out shelf mark labels on yellow stickers rather than white ones to aid those readers with dyslexia or Irlen syndrome. They also print their labels so that the first line of each shelf mark will appear at the same height on each book spine, regardless of how many cutter numbers a shelf mark might have. This makes it easier to follow the sequence along the shelf. Every little helps!
Leanne says: At Christ Church Library we are already looking into using the bindery where Ross sends worn books to be rebound. I talked to my Librarians about the system that Ross uses to regularly send books that are in need of TLC to the bindery and we’re now looking to adopt a similar strategy to be more efficient with our rebinding budget. Talking to Ross about his trainee project has also inspired and motivated me to look into improving the promotion and visibility of collections that are particularly important to students, including the accessibility equipment we provide.
Can you describe the library you visited in one word?
The first weeks of February occupy the middle of Oxford University’s Hilary Term. They represent a busy time for students; the History Faculty Library’s self-collect shelves are heaving with off-site stack requests and there is rarely an empty seat in sight. Roughly speaking, this period also marks the midway point of the Bodleian Libraries Graduate Traineeship and now I feel more familiar with the library’s collections, I thought I’d use this space to share a few details about them.
There are a little over 80,000 volumes at the HFL, including 1100 books in the local history section and 3,500 ‘oversize’ books on art, architecture and archaeology. Yet, it’s the main lending sequence that accounts for the bulk of this figure. Spanning three floors, the majority of the books in this collection can be borrowed by anyone with a blue reader’s card. Theoretically, this means that every current member of the University has the opportunity to take home a sample of what the History Faculty Library has to offer.
Though it parted ways with 473 of its rare antiquarian books when it moved from the Old Indian Institute in 2012, the library still has approximately 1,000 pre-nineteenth-century volumes in its care. A portion of these are known as ‘set texts’, which are prescribed readings for undergraduates studying Joint or Single Honours History Degrees. In certain cases, the HFL has the only available copy these readings in Oxford, making the Set Text Collection in the Upper Camera a particularly important and unique resource.
The library further provides for the needs of students by responding to trends currently shaping the historical disciplines. Between March and June 2018, the library purchased just over 1100 books in the wake of a recent syllabus reform by the University’s History Faculty, whilst steps have also been taken to secure additional funding for pre-emptive purchasing in growth areas, such as global medieval history. The time spent processing these new acquisitions has been fascinating. All too often an intriguing title or profound idea has diverted my attention from the timely application of stamps and Tattle Tape. It’s a similiar story organising the New Books Display, though I think this is somewhat understandable given the premise of a few volumes in particular…
Joking aside, it has been exciting to witness an influx of research on previously neglected pasts. It seems historians are now asking more questions, about more things, than ever before. Welcoming the fruits of their labour to the HFL with a shelf mark, bookplate and dust-jacket cover has certainly been a therapeutic way to spend a quiet afternoon!
Adding to the breadth of the library’s collections, many of these new arrivals are inter-disciplinary in nature, made worthy of a position on the open shelves by virtue of their versatility. However, some more specialist works are sent directly to the off-site storage facility in Swindon, a decision predicated on a forecast of infrequent use. Here, they are kept safe in climate-controlled conditions under the watchful eye of the Head of the Bodleian Storage Facility, or BSF. Being so far removed from Oxford doesn’t necessarily mean these books won’t see a day in a reading room though. Despite the 80(ish) mile round trip, off-site items are never more than a few clicks away from being sent to a variety of Bodleian Libraries via SOLO.
Though comparably modest in size, the HFL certainly punches above its weight when it comes to provision. This is, in no small part, due to a concise and effective collection development policy which sees students and academics well catered for. Yet, as one of the Bodleian Libraries, the HFL is also aided by the logistical and technical support derived from the legal-deposit library’s infrastructure. The Bodleian’s network of reader terminals, dotted throughout the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link, provide access to hundreds of thousands of e-resources, including eLegal-Deposit items. Additionally, the Radcliffe Camera’s status as a collection point for off-site stack requests puts the Bodleian’s vast reserves of print material at the fingertips of any HFL visitor. Though such a symbiotic arrangement might seem challenging, in this instance, it has proven to be a winning combination.
Ross Jones, History Faculty Library and Radcliffe Camera
As part of the traineeship, I work one late shift each Friday, which makes for a welcome change of pace. Once the 9 to 5 flurry of circulation activity subsides, a palpable calm fills the library as readers settle down to an evening of study. The shift in tempo provides a much needed opportunity to catch up with emails, book processing and other ongoing projects. It also gives me the chance to reflect on some of the things that make this experience so memorable, primarily working in the Radcliffe Camera.
Home to the History Faculty Library, this building is a regular feature of lists and literature documenting noteworthy landmarks throughout the UK. Its circular design, with baroque allusions to classical architecture, make it a feast for the eyes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, images of ‘The Camera’ pervade the city’s visual culture and manifest in a plethora of interesting ways. A staple of postcard vendors, it can be seen spray-painted to a building on the Cowley Road and is the subject of pictures in numerous shops and restaurants. Its likeness has been reimagined in the form of key chains, book ends and ornaments in the Bodleian Shop as well.
Through the traineeship, I have been fortunate enough to learn about some of the ways this challenge is being addressed. During a behind the scenes tour of the Weston Library, Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections, shed light on how the building’s clever use of space helps to serve a host of different visitors. The open plan design of the atrium in Blackwell Hall means that the cafe, exhibition rooms, lecture theatre, temporary displays and information desk are visible as one seamless panorama, whilst a suspended glass-panelled gallery puts the inner-workings of the library on display overhead. It’s this architectural ingenuity that helps evoke a welcoming sense of inclusivity.
The Bodleian’s decision to accommodate for heightened levels of public interest is evident throughout the central site. In addition to hosting open lectures and workshops, The Libraries also offer a sneak-peak of the reading rooms, some of which featured in the Harry Potter films. Each week, volunteer guides perform the mini miracle of leading immersive tours through this famed network of silent study spaces, with minimal disruption to readers. Nearing the end of Michaelmas term, I am still struck by the novelty of a trail of beguilled visitors passing through the library each Wednesday to gaze at the Camera’s domed ceiling.
Though I’ve not been here long, it seems to me that a flexible, creative and pragmatic approach to public engagement has meant that there really is something for everyone at the UK’s largest library system. It is enlightening to learn how such a feat is achieved.
Ross Jones, History Faculty Library and Radcliffe Camera
Hi! My name is Ross and I am this year’s graduate trainee at the History Faculty Library, though I’m not entirely new to the Bodleian Libraries experience. Last year, I returned from China to complete a part-time graduate programme in Historical Studies at the Department of Continuing Education here in Oxford. As I was quick to find out, the faculty library would be the first port of call for many of my research queries and most of the resources I’d need to complete my course.
Situated in the Radcliffe Camera and parts of the Gladstone Link below, the History Faculty Library is an interesting example of an embedded library in the sense that it shares the space with another much larger library (the Old Bodleian Library) and is encompassed by a complex of historic buildings that make up the ‘central site‘. Occupying such a unique location means the ‘HFL’ enjoys an eclectic and beautifully eccentric mix of architectural features across its four floors, with stunning views over Radcliffe Square to boot. Henry James’ quote about the peculiar air of Oxford really hit home when I walked inside; I immediately fell in love with the space and found myself wanting to spend as much time there as possible. So began a career with the Bodleian Libraries.
“the peculiar air of Oxford—the air of liberty to care for the things of the mind assured and secured by machinery which is in itself a satisfaction to sense.” – Henry James, English Hours
Initially working as a shelving assistant, I eventually found myself involved with a veritable miscellany of library tasks. I processed incoming acquisitions, assisted with a book move at the Wellcome Unit, covered evening shifts and took an additional weekend job at the Sackler Library. It was through these experiences, and an increasingly large network of colleagues, that I became aware of the Graduate Trainee Scheme. I jumped at the opportunity. For me, the traineeship represented a chance to receive a more comprehensive grounding in a library-related profession, one that would hopefully contextualise my part-time experiences and provide a preliminary framework for studying an MA in Information and Library Studies.
Although it is still early days, I certainly feel that the traineeship is shaping up to be far more than just that. Less than a fortnight into our year-long programme, I along with my fellow trainees have been introduced to Oxford University’s discovery tools, library management systems, staff development programmes and support networks, whilst a varied workload with duties ranging from the routine to the bizarre (dissuading a tourist from flying a drone over the Camera!) has filled the time in-between.
But the icing on this splendid albeit busy cake has been the people I’ve met so far. Twenty one of us make up this year’s trainee cohort, college trainees included, and we have shared some of our introductory sessions with three foreign-placement students as well. A truly multi-national and friendly bunch, it has been fascinating hearing about past professional experiences and future plans from people who share my passion for libraries. As the year progresses, I am eager to learn how the operational and logistical challenges facing their libraries differ from my own.
Casting the net a little wider, I feel those colleagues I have come into contact with across the entirety of the Bodleian Libraries have also been very welcoming. Course Directors, Line-managers, Subject Librarians, Reader Services and Technical Services Staff have explained procedures, clarified any issues and gone to great lengths to ensure I’ve landed on my feet. I am grateful for their support and the opportunities afforded me by the Libraries.
James, Henry, and Pennell, Joseph. English Hours. William Heinemann, 1905.
Hello! I’m Amy and I am this year’s History Faculty Library trainee.
I graduated in 2014 with a degree in English Literature from Cardiff University. Since then I’ve done all kinds of jobs and volunteering whilst living at home in Solihull near Birmingham – working on a busy airport check-in during summer, dog walking, working in a bookshop, and most recently I was a barista at a popular coffee shop chain. As you can imagine, working in a library has been quite the change of pace!
Although I have some experience volunteering in libraries years ago, this is my first proper job working in one, and so far Oxford has been a great place to begin my possible career. I feel very lucky to be here!
Somewhat appropriately given the subject, the History Faculty Library is a place where old and new buildings meet. I am mostly based in the Radcliffe Camera, AKA. the huge pretty circular stone building on all the postcards from Oxford. It’s easy to see how it got its iconic status, and is just as stunning on the inside as it is on the outside – it’s a shame most people don’t get to see it! Its intricate domed stone ceilings, spiral staircases and super tall wooden bookshelves make it really unique, even though it can be a bit eerie arriving in the library alone first thing in the morning. It is truly a privilege to come to work here everyday – everyone is always jealous when I tell them!
However, most people don’t know that underneath the Camera are the space-age basements and hidden tunnels of the Upper and Lower Gladstone Link, which hold more of our collections (turns out a lot of people have written about history) and links to the Old Bodleian, so we can walk underground rather than dodge all the tourists in the Quad. If the Rad Cam represents the past, then the Gladstone Link represents the future. Some people say it looks like something from Star Trek – I think it looks more like a Tube station.
Although I have only been here a few weeks, I have already settled into a routine at the HFL. Early morning and afternoon are usually when we receive deliveries of books in big blue boxes, ordered by readers from the Book Storage Facility in Swindon, and these are sure to increase as term begins. In between I have shifts on the reception and circulation desks – issuing books, helping students, or just dismissing tourists! I also have to fit in the training sessions with the other graduate trainees. The rest of the time is often spent processing new books (I still haven’t got the hang of the sticky back plastic) or trying to decipher the Library of Congress classification system whilst shelving returned books.
Michaelmas term starts properly next week, and as one of the biggest lending libraries in the university, we are sure to be busy! I’ve been told that working in the library during term time is completely different compared to how it is now. However, I’m enjoying the calm before the storm ie. being able to race around the city on my bike without bumping into too many lost looking students! I’m looking forward to the coming year, getting to know the university, the library and its readers, as well as my colleagues and fellow trainees. I feel very lucky to have a fantastic opportunity to experience such an integral part of the world’s top university, and I hope to take advantage of everything Oxford has to offer me!
Hi! I’m Danielle, the new Graduate Library Trainee for the History Faculty Library. I am based in the Radcliffe Camera and Gladstone Link.
A bit about me: I am from Hamilton, Ontario and completed a BA in History from the University of Guelph and an MA in History from the University of Western Ontario. In 2011 I took the plunge and moved across the ocean to England for the MA in Museum Studies programme at the University of Leicester. Following my year in Leicester, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to go back to Canada and I am still in the UK four years later!
Unlike most of the other trainees, I am new to working in libraries. I’ve had a wide variety of customer service jobs and volunteer roles- everything from a coffee shop barista to a museum intern to a front of house assistant at a major UK tourist attraction- but never a library, although the idea of being a librarian has always been at the back of my mind. During my time at university I spent a lot of time in the library and often wondered what it would be like to work on the other side of the desk. With my background in history and museums, I figured a career as a librarian wasn’t too far off since libraries often put on exhibitions with their special collections and a lot of museums have libraries and archives. Plus I have always been one to have a book on the go and love the idea of being surrounded by books! I realise librarians are far too busy to do any reading on the job but that doesn’t stop me from noting down books that I might like to peruse on my own time.
I was fortunate enough to be placed in the History Faculty Library which houses the University of Oxford’s main collection of undergraduate materials in Medieval and Modern History, as well as in the History of Art and History of Science. It is nice to be in my subject area and among some interesting historical material- I have even found myself shelving books I recognise from my own studies. I also have the added benefit of working in a stunning historical building which is not a bad place to arrive each morning.
Having never worked in a library before I didn’t really know what to expect when I started at the beginning of the month. I have had a lot of training in the past couple of weeks and have done several solo shifts on the reception and circulation desks- luckily help has always been nearby! I have also done a few closing shifts which involve ringing an antique bell and shooing out the readers reluctant to leave. I think the most challenging part so far has been remembering all the required passwords and getting to grips with the vast amount of library jargon and abbreviations. Fortunately my colleagues in the Camera have been very patient and helpful as I get orientated. September is a good month to start as the library is relatively quiet, however I’ve been told nothing will prepare me for the change of pace next month when term starts and the new students arrive.
If these first few weeks are anything to go by, I am looking forward to the year ahead- getting to know my fellow trainees, becoming more confident in my role at the HFL, and exploring all that Oxford has to offer.
Last Tuesday we had our second trainee get together when we were treated to a tour of the Bodleian library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Gladstone Link, as well as a wine reception at the Divinity School. It was very exciting seeing behind the scenes at these grand libraries!
As there are quite a few of us, we separated into two groups and our tours took different routes. In my group we looked around the Bodleian reading rooms first. We heard from our excellent guide all about how books are sent from the remote storage facility in Swindon (which we will be visiting this year!), and the different ways readers can collect their requests once they have arrived in Oxford. We then headed outside to see the Radcliffe Camera (currently undergoing some construction), and travelled back to the Bod underground through the Gladstone Link. I really liked the reader space in the Link, which was very modern compared to the reading rooms in the Bod and the Camera but which still had the traditional stacks, designed by William Gladstone himself.
Afterwards, we went to a reception in the Divinity School, the university’s first purpose built teaching room which was constructed in 1488. We were joined by senior members of the Bodleian library staff and were given a very warm welcome. The librarians present all wished us well for the coming year, and were very encouraging!