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!
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 PorticoLibrary, 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 all–in–one.
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.
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!
Walk to work! The sense of excitement and looking forward to the day ahead usually hits when I come onto Broad Street and walk past the beautiful Bodleian and the Weston libraries.
Opening up time. I do this once a week with another colleague. I like to arrive first when the library is creepily empty and still, a good setting for a murder mystery novel…I turn on the self-issue machines and printers, login to the front desk computers, check the study carrel bookings and open/close them as required. After deleting any expired holds and dragging in the overnight returns box from reception, it’s time to declare the library open by activating the automatic doors.
9:00 – 09:15
Emails. The SSL graduate trainee is responsible for managing the main SSL queries inbox. We often get requests to book discussion rooms and study carrels, loan books to ARACU, and remotely extend loans to students overseas who are unable to return them. Occasionally, we receive emails from authors and publishers asking if we might like to buy their books – these get forwarded to the SSL Orders team or appropriate subject librarian, but not before I have admired their bold self-advertising skills!
09:15 – 10:00
Book processing. The workroom at the SSL is dominated by a massive shelf of books in various states of processing, several of which are assigned to the trainee. One is exclusively for labels which are wrong or have rubbed off and need replacing. There is also a ‘low priority’ and ‘high priority’ processing shelf for books which require tattle taping, stamping and plating.
In terms of cataloguing, the ‘full processing of holdings work required’ shelf involves adding the shelf mark, location, status, hardback or paperback and reading list code (if required) to the Aleph record before bringing the item into circulation. We also have a ‘processing Bodleian Outhoused’ shelf for books selected by subject consultants for housing in the SSL while they are of current interest to researchers. The SSL is taking part in a pilot scheme where new selections can be borrowed, so these require an additional cataloguing note to indicate them as part of the pilot.
10:00 – 11:00
Issue desk! AKA processing returns, loaning books and equipment, handing out items from the stack and answering reader queries. At around 2pm, the new stack requests from the BSL are delivered – these require ‘checking in’ and ordering alphabetically on the shelves behind. You’ve also got to watch out for readers bringing drinks that are not in a KeepCup and deploy a stern stare now and then to keep the noise down.
11:00 – 11:20
A snack and a read on the comfy sofas of our staff break area.
11:20 – 12:30
Scan & Deliver. Due to staff illness, I have been helping with the fetching and scanning process of our Scan & Deliver service. Normally, I work on the ‘Deliver’ element, which I will explain later. I locate the items in the library which have been requested before using ‘Hex’, our super bookeye scanner, to create the scans. After a little editing, they are ready to go.
12:30 – 13:30
Lunch. The SSL is only a few minutes’ walk away from University Parks. Usually, I will take my lunch down there and have a walk (or a tiptoe when passing the local geese, as they always seem ready for violence). If the weather isn’t very nice, I might have a coffee at the Missing Been café in the St Cross Building up the road or the Weston, a bit further afield.
13:30 – 14:30wwe
Another issue desk shift (the graduate trainee will typically have 2 or 3 hourly shifts a day).
The post tray on the issue desk is usually brimming with parcels and letters by this time. I do my best to figure out what everything is and who it needs to go to. An added challenge is opening any packaging very carefully so that it can be re-used.
14:35 – 15:30
Scanning triage. This is the ‘Deliver’ part of the ‘Scan & Deliver’ service I mentioned earlier. I login to ‘Request Tracker’ and send off any scans that have been completed. I then triage new requests by checking that they fall under copyright law (readers can only request 5% or below of the total page count of the volume a book, or a single chapter) and that there are no alternative online resources on SOLO. The request can then be added to our ‘Fetching List’, for the scanning team to locate and scan on ‘Hex’.
15:30 – 16:00
Missing book search. I wander sadly through the library looking for all the books on our ‘Missing Bookings’ list in the hope they have somehow made their way back to the shelf. One in particular, ‘The Mushroom at the End of the World’, has haunted me for a long time (if anyone has it at their library, please send it back!). I also get creative in terms of thinking how someone might have misinterpreted the shelf mark. I have an extremely low success rate, but it’s still quite fun…
16:00 – 16:20
Another break time. Usually a nap with my eyes open at this stage in the day.
16:20 – 16:30
A quick desk tidy, as it has started disappearing underneath tattle tape backing, chopped up bits of label and processing notes. A major part of the SSL work ethic is re-using everything that can possibly be re-used. You therefore have to have a long hard think before throwing anything into the recycling bin.
16:30 – 17:30
Projects. I am working on a number of projects currently. As part of the Technical Services team, I am ‘weeding’ books that need to be withdrawn or sent to the BSF, and converting hardly used Short Loans and Library Use Only material into Normal Loan. I am also working on another project to increase the accessibility of our resources by converting thousands of short loans into normal loans.
*Posted on behalf of Eleanor Winterbottom, the Library Apprentice at St Antony’s College Library*
Thursday 10th March 2022
Although I may not be a graduate library trainee, as a library apprentice my average working day is very similar to the graduate trainees in terms of structure and daily tasks. However, if you have read the other “Day-in-the-life” blogs you will understand by now that every college in Oxford is unique in its own little ways, and each library has its own system and “house-rules” that it applies in practice. Here is a day in my life as an apprentice library assistant at St Antony’s College.
9:00 – 9:30
St Antony’s College Library is open 24/7, so Aimee (the Librarian) and I never have to really “open-up” the library in the mornings. Usually when I arrive by 9:00 there are already some eager readers sat at their desks! I do though have a list of preparatory tasks that I complete each morning. If I am in before Aimee I will turn on the lights in the library office and open the blinds, before making my way down to the basement stacks to make sure the lights are all working and that no one has gotten themselves stuck between the book stacks (luckily this hasn’t happened on my rounds yet!) I will then walk the library and the Gulbenkian Reading Room (a study space which is also open 24/7), making sure there is enough ventilation, tidying desks and chairs and checking that there are no personal belongings left lying around, before collecting any books from the returns box. When Aimee arrives I will have a chat with her about any meetings, events or visitors we have scheduled during the day, before heading to my desk in the main reading room and writing myself a to-do list.
9:30 – 10:30
The first tasks that I do on any given working day is check and action any emails and go through the daily holdings report to see if any books have been requested by readers. There are no new holdings requests today, so I don’t need to worry about that. I then process all the returns, flicking through each book to check for bookmarks and put them on the trolley ready for shelving. Today is the due date for books currently out on loan so I have a lot to get through!
10:30 – 11:30
Once I’ve finished the returns I get cracking on with any other tasks that need doing. Today I have a small pile of new books leftover from the day before that need to be processed, so I attach them to the correct bibliographic records on Aleph, choose an appropriate Library of Congress class mark for them (which can take a while when every library classifies something differently!) and stamp them before adding a spine label and putting them on the shelving trolley, while adding a couple to our New Books Display. The maps of the college that we have on the issue desk are a bit crumpled and one has some water damage, so I recycle them and replace them with new ones, and I remove any out of date posters and notices from the notice board.
11:30 – 12:30
I am usually working on a long-term project that I do alongside my daily tasks. My current project is going through the library’s literature section and adding them to the library catalogue. This section has not been a priority in the past, as literature is not really a subject covered at St Antony’s, but it would still be useful for the collection to be on the catalogue so that the students are aware it is there if they are interested. While working on this project we receive an email from the KB Chen China Centre Library, who are interested in acquiring some of our journals that are up for donation. The project I completed in Michaelmas term was going through all of our physical journals and periodicals and checking to see which ones are fully available online and in other libraries, so that we can consider donating them to make space for resources that are more likely to be of use to our students. I head down to the basement stacks to select the requested journals and email the CCL to let them know I will bring them round in the afternoon.
12:30 – 13:30
Lunch time! St Antony’s has a communal dining hall so staff, students, fellows and faculty all sit together. The noise is a strangely refreshing break from the quietness of the library, and it’s a good chance to catch up with colleagues over a plate of delicious hot food. As St Antony’s is a particularly international college the food reflects this, and we are lucky to get a choice between three hot meals of varying cuisine, sides, salad and fresh fruit! Before heading back to the library I pop into the lodge to check if any post has been delivered. No book deliveries today, but we do have some new journals that will need to go on display.
13:30 – 14:30
After lunch I head over to the KB Chen China Centre Library with the requested journals. This is my first time visiting this particular Bodleian library, so Minh, the librarian, kindly gives me a guided tour! When I return to St Antony’s I process the new journals and add them to the display in the main reading room. We insert pink slips into the latest edition, asking people to note when they use the journals so we can collect the data for our statistics. I take the opportunity to check if any new usages have been added and add the data to the statistics.
14:30 – 17:00
As there are no new books to be processed and it is a quiet afternoon, I spend the last couple of hours of my shift doing work for my apprenticeship. This involves a number of different things, including working on my written assignments, writing up my reflective logs on my progress and what I have learnt so far, as well as reading and research. I do this at my desk in the main reading room, so I am always juggling this with enquiries from readers who need help with printing, finding specific texts or greeting and having a quick chat with our regulars! At 5pm my work day is finished, and I pack up my desk, say goodbye to Aimee (who always works later than she should!) and head home. I’m looking forward to tomorrow where I will be meeting the graduate trainees after work at G&D’s for ice-cream!
If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ve probably gathered by now that there are two Law trainees. Law is a large library, with a team working in three subsections: Academic Services (where Josie is based), Information Resources (where Jess is based), and Official Papers (technically a separate collection housed within the library, with a small team of its own). Although we share some tasks and both spend time out on the enquiry desk, there are some general differences between the two positions – the IR trainee is generally surrounded by various stages of book processing, while the AS trainee shares an office with the librarians responsible for delivering the LRMSP, an undergraduate legal research course. With that in mind, here are two days in the life at the LawBod!
Josie: I arrive at the library and make my way up to my office on the second floor, opening any windows I pass along the way. Depending on who’s already here, there may be some reshelving to do as well – although restrictions have eased a lot since the start of our traineeship, we still have some variable working patterns going on, so the division of opening-up duties changes from day to day.
Jess: I pack my things away in my locker, hanging up my coat and heading out to open some of the Law Library’s many windows. I keep an eye out for any shelving before heading up (or down) to the Information Resources office.
Josie: The first thing I do after catching up on emails and messages is check the scan request queues. Although I’m not involved in triaging requests for the library, I do a lot of the scanning, so it’s useful to know if much will come my way later in the day. Beyond this point, the shape of my day is largely determined by my fluctuating ability to sit still and focus on spreadsheets. I really appreciate being able to manage my own time here – I work on a variety of long-term projects, so once I’ve accounted for things like meetings and desk shifts, I can play it by ear and go wherever I’ll be most productive for the next while.
Jess: I clear any new emails and Teams messages, checking to see how much is on each of the shelves in the WIP (work-in-progress) room I have responsibility for, as well as the enquiry desk rota, before drawing up a schedule of tasks for the day.
Josie: I’m currently working through a trolley of jurisprudence books, part of our ongoing reclassification project. This is a good task to fill an hour or so, as there’s only so much legal philosophy I can google or translate my way through before everything starts turning to word soup.
Jess: Schedule in hand, I start the day by gathering up any books ready for labelling on the designated shelf. We have two different labels types, depending on whether a book is likely to be reclassified in the somewhat near future (more on that later) or not. I fill in the shelfmarks for the new books before printing two sheets of labels. I affix each new label to the relevant spine or the front cover if a shelfmark is particularly long (looking at you EuroComm) or a book is particularly short. Any shelfmark we expect to be correct for some time has a label protector placed over it to keep it legible for years of readers to come. These then go on yet another shelf where someone from Academic Services checks them in order to catch the (hopefully occasional) errors that seep in despite my best efforts. They are then shelved for our readers to find.
Josie: Every Monday the AS staff have a short meeting over Teams, catching everyone up on the past week’s activities and giving a heads-up for any upcoming absences or unusual occurrences. I take minutes for these and upload them to the Teams channel shortly afterwards. Once a month, I go straight from this to taking minutes for the Bodleian’s ORLO Operations Group meeting, which lasts through to lunchtime and involves many more acronyms. (ORLO = Oxford Reading Lists Online, interactive reading lists which link directly to access points for online resources).
Jess:We usually have the Law Library staff meeting on a Thursday, where Helen Garner – the fabled Law Librarian – updates us on all the relevant changes and goings-on in both our own library and the Bodleian at large. This year, there has been plenty of information about the various changing COVID procedures and restrictions as well as questions around journals, online resources, and more.
Josie: I keep working on the jurisprudence books for now, as I’ll be going over my suggested new shelf marks with the IR librarian tomorrow. However, being part of AS means that it’s not unusual for someone to drop by the office or message me on Teams with a quick job to do instead – getting ahead on admin for next term’s LRMSP sessions, fixing glitchy columns in the tea room budget spreadsheet, and testing out new hiring or induction materials are all part of a day’s work.
Jess:A quick stop for tea and a book. At present, I’m (very happily) weighed down with the tome that is Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s The Mirror of Beauty.
Josie: There are few scan requests ready and waiting, so I make a note of the details and go searching for books. Most issues get ironed out by the triage team, but a little detective work is occasionally needed – I once spent most of a desk shift using an incomplete citation to track down a Scottish law report from 1807!
We’re lucky to have a high-tech Bookeye scanner, which can split double pages, crop messy edges, and automatically makes files OCR accessible. Once the scans are done, I use a PDF editor to double-check for missing pages and reduce the file size, then fill in our record of completed scans and add the file to our repository in case it’s requested again. When the same scan is requested by multiple people, it’s often related to a particular course, so it’s useful to already have a good-quality scan that can be sent out again or potentially go straight onto ORLO or LB4S (LawBod 4 Students – more on that later).
Jess: I take an hour to complete various smaller tasks that need managing around the office. I stamp, add security, and label any books that have arrived via purchase or donation – often much smaller than our copyright deliveries. I print some new bookplates for our generous series of donations from the Supreme Court of Korea, which have their own unique design and are possibly the only thing I print in colour. I check up on the status of books that have not arrived from previous copyright deliveries, making sure they are still on their way to us and haven’t ended up at the BSF. I fix any incorrect labels, and make new ones for books that have been spotted with theirs peeled off.
Josie: I’ll be on desk at one, so – depending on how long the scans take, and how many times the PDF editor crashes in the process – I aim to take my lunch at around noon. It’s easy to spend the whole day inside, so I’m making more of an effort to take my book and lunch outside as the weather improves.
Jess: Since Thursday is Josie’s day at the SBS, I gather up the day’s scan requests so far to avoid them returning to a large stack.
Josie: Time for my desk shift! Most enquiries tend to be about navigating the library, although as we’re currently in a vacation period, the number of students in search of PCAS machines and reading list materials has somewhat decreased. I give a quick summary of the library’s layout to a visiting researcher, direct someone asking about Ted Hughes across the building to the English Faculty Library, and take another reader down to the ground floor to help them find a report in the Official Papers collection.
Jess: Thursday afternoons often hold cataloguing lessons. I’m learning to create basic records for a variety of items, known as Minimal Level Records. These records contain key information about the item’s title, author, publisher etc., allowing it to be located by any reader looking specifically for that item, or items by that author, but miss a lot of the detail in a full record (such as Library of Congress subjects) that are helpful for resource discovery when researching. However, they are an ideal place to start learning to catalogue! I create new records for a small stack of Official Papers material; going through the first few record creations in detail with Tanya before leaving me to finish the rest of the stack without supervision to check for errors later (is this homework?).
Josie: Between enquiries, my usual desk task is an LB4S checking project. Since it’s important that law students learn to find their own resources, a lot of the undergraduate courses don’t get ORLO lists. However, we still need a way to supply digitised versions of required readings that aren’t widely accessible (the Law Quarterly Review, for example, has a 35-year gap in its online provision), so there’s a designated LB4S section on each course’s Canvas site. Since it’s been a chaotic couple of years for online resource provision, my job is to work through each course and make sure that everything is in order on the copyright side of things, as well as generally tidying up the pages and checking for any resources that have become available online since being uploaded.
Jess: A late lunch today, as I find that keeps my energy up for my evening shift. I occasionally drop by the EFL, just a staircase away, in order to exchange my poetry reads.
Josie: After desk, I take a tea break and check the post room for blue BSF crates before deciding how to spend the afternoon. It’s been a few days since I got round to one of my other ongoing tasks, so I find an empty trolley on the ground floor and start moving some books. As a legal deposit library, we keep all the up-to-date publications on the upper floors, but also hoard superseded editions and early journals down in the rolling stacks. Inevitably, there are some overcrowding issues, so we’re working through a several-step plan to get what space we have into a more useful location. There’s something very satisfying about closing up the shelf space left for a report series we haven’t received in hard copy since the mid-2010s, but metal shelving is unforgiving of clumsiness – the clanging occasionally attracts a lost reader.
Jess: Usually by this point of the day, the post has arrived! The ‘Virtual Book Display’ is a list of all the legal deposit books the Bodleian has received that week, and Felicity, head of all things in Information Resources, selects the law-relevant titles that then arrive on a Thursday. I record which ones have arrived using a traffic light system on my spreadsheet, having a weekly check of any missing titles to see if they have found their way to another library or the BSF – and sometimes the shelves! Each book receives stamps and security measures before being placed on the designated VBD shelf where the library’s cataloguers – Tanya and Rebecca – pick them up. Whilst the size of this delivery varies week-on-week, it’s usually sizeable – I often process several hundred books a term!
Josie: Law books tend to be heavy, so I’m careful to leave off the book moving before overdoing it. For the last part of the day, I head back to the office and clear up any leftover tasks – shelving in the main reading room, another scan or two, or working on a blog post like this one.
Jess: Break time! I devour a quick chapter of my book and a fortifying snack.
Jess: I tie up any loose ends at my desk before prepping my trolley for my evening desk shift.
Josie: Once a week I stay on for an evening shift, but not today! I finish off whatever I’m currently working on, make a quick note of anything I ought to prioritise tomorrow, then sign off for the day and head home.
Jess: Late shifts are shared out between members of library staff, and Thursday is my anointed day. There are often fewer reader enquiries at this hour, so I head to the Jurisprudence section to pick up the thirty-two titles on my sheet. My temporary stealing of books from the shelves is part of the MOYS reclassification project – the library is changing over from its old shelfmark style to a new one (MOYS, hence the name) which is a Library of Congress style system designed specifically for law books. I check over tables of contents, introductions, and skim over a few chapters to get a sense of which shelfmark is right, going outside of jurisprudence where needed – and if a book is particularly opaque, I’ll dig further. The library has many foreign language holdings, so I also have a bookstand at the ready to use DeepL to supplement my language skills –French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese are most common, with some surprises! I keep a running Word document with various keywords in an attempt to improve my language skills and I like to think I am starting to get a foothold in my incredibly specific vocabulary – I cannot tell you what the verb for ‘to eat’ is in German, but I can recognise the word for ‘constitution’ about 50% of the time…
Jess: Time to go home! As my longest day of the week, I usually reward myself with pizza – and get my hours back in exchange by way of an early 3PM finish on Tuesdays.
Today is a Thursday and it’s Easter vacation and we only have a few readers in.
This means the librarian and I can tackle projects which we cannot do during term time, such as devising weeding strategies for overcrowded subject sections, addressing inclusivity in our collections, reclassifying, collection stocktakes, special collections research etc.
Hopefully this day in the life offers a glimpse into the variety that comes with being a college trainee, and also what trainees can get up to in vacation time since this is often not mentioned on the blog.
Arrive at Pembroke. I say hello to the porters and pass by the bust of William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, who also stands guard in the Bodleian’s quad. Escaping William Herbert, I walk through Old Quad and to the library. I set up base camp for the day in my office which I share with Laura, the college librarian. On Thursdays and Fridays, I say hello to the college archivist who lives next door in the library building. Since, Thursday is today, I say hello to the archivist.
8.30am – My day starts
8.30 – 8:40am
I start by looking at my emails (personal and library inbox) and the shared library and archives outlook calendar. We have a conservator visiting in the afternoon. I answer emails and flag complex emails which require more thought, such as missing book claims or special collections queries.
If today were a Friday, I would gather the temperature and humidity data from the Tiny Tag data loggers that are placed in our rare books room and stack. I would download their data and record them in a folder and then analyse trends in temperature and humidity.
8:40 – 8:55am
I tidy the reservations shelf and download an Aleph recalls report and update circulation. I refill the library’s printer.
Depending on the time of term, I can walk into the library met by mountains of books, so I time manage accordingly.
Today, I am met by only a fair few books. I check in these books on Aleph and place them aside to shelve immediately after.
It is good to get shelving done before the majority of students arrive. Although, it’s important to remember that shelving is a continuous task and to not let it dictate your working day. As I shelve, I am often met by stray books which I re-shelve.
I check the library’s pigeon hole for post and deliveries. Two boxes stare at me. This means one thing – book deliveries, and processing. This can be a lengthy process.
I attempt to open the parcels neatly, I fail. I discard a now tattered cardboard box in the recycling bin. I cross reference these books with our budget spreadsheet. I check to see if any of the book deliveries are requests and will process these books first. This often leads to mysterious cataloguing encounters which are best worked through with coffee. Today, however, I only have a few requested books to process, some for fellows and some for students.
One requested book is about the symbolism of the colour green in art history. As an art history graduate, I am obviously distracted by the book. But, I resist from reading and process promptly and inform the student that it is ready for borrowing. I place the book on our reservations shelf.
I update the budget and file the delivery invoices.
Planning the afternoon, ahead!
Completing the essential library duties, and because it is vacation time, I now have freedom to plan my day in accordance to my individual trainee project and ongoing projects be this: stocktakes, collections management & development, reclassification, preparing displays etc. Often, I reserve afternoons to do my homework for the Bodleian Cataloguer training.
I often plan to do a little task of my trainee project every few days. This approach also works well with large projects.
11.00-11.40am … John Hall
Planning project work, I suddenly remember seeing a portrait in college of the individual that my trainee project is revolved around. It’s almost as if the portrait haunts me.
I then find the portrait of John Hall on Art UK. Hall’s serious stare reminds me to crack on exploring his collection. I don’t argue, and dutifully contemplate my trainee project.
My trainee project sees me investigate and manage the Right Reverend John Hall’s (Bishop of Bristol and Master of Pembroke, 1664–1710) book collection. The collection has not been looked at in decades, so I am the lucky person to manage and research it!
At the beginning of Hilary Term, I started to ask myself: In our stack, do we have the Hall collection that our card catalogues from the 1970s recall that we have, and do we have what John Hall’s 1709 catalogue records? Also, some of Hall’s book have remnants of a chain which makes me question whether Pembroke once had a chained library. I contemplate these questions. Getting to know Hall is fun, he is an interesting character who paid for the completion of Old Quad and his lodgings, which is now the Samuel Johnson Building. The cobbles on Pembroke Square still show the path from the front door of Hall’s Lodgings to St Aldates church. This path is smoother than the cobbles to
ensure that Hall didn’t trip whilst walking to church.
I evaluate the progress I have made so far, asking how far I have come to solve these questions, whilst examining, with fresh eyes, my excel database that I have made, and what I am to do with this moving forwards.
A fellow comes by the office with their new book. It’s about interpreters in 16th century China and relationships between China and Britain. I then answer emails.
Lunch in hall! A nice moment to eat with the entire college staff across all departments.
1.00-3.00pm … Special collections! Rare books, Samuel Johnson, French clocks and knife boxes
It’s Easter vacation and the few readers we had in the morning have now trickled out. In this afternoon of quietness, I assist the librarian and archivist with our special collections. Typically afternoons during term would consist of more shelving, book processing and be mostly reader services orientated. However, today is rather different.
I help the librarian with attempting to identify strange glitter-like markings which we find in one of our rare books. Is it recent graffiti, or ink that has changed colour over time? New College Notes 10 (2018), no. 6 helps us to figure out what is at play. It turns out we unexpectedly found traces of ‘pounce’. (I will let you read New College’s brilliant article to discover what pounce is). I later assist Amanda, the archivist, to photograph the conditions of Samuel Johnson’s writing desk, a French late 19th century Louis XV style clock and George III mahogany and tulipwood banded knife boxes. The furniture conservator arrives and I have a nice chat with them about his work. I worked with the Furniture History Society during my master’s, so it’s fun to be able to apply what I learnt during that time.
A highlight of my traineeship has been understanding and exploring what collections work is, and can be.
I tidy my office and sort out the towering stacks of old journals. They are economics and biology journals, but the odd British history journal catches my eye.
In the spirit of tidying, I then organise a pile of donations. I give them a new home, a.k.a one of my empty shelves. This donation consists of a bunch of Lord of the Rings, and Middle Earth related books. I then draw Gandalf to accompany their new home, next to my desk.
Earlier on in Hilary, I showcased our collection of Tolkien letters to Sophie, the trainee at the EFL. It’s always nice to find yourself working with Tolkien related material.
This term, I have been handed the reigns of purchasing acquisitions. I order a list of requested books for students and fellows. I update the budget accordingly.
3.30-3.45pm… I set a test for myself – “can I find these objects?”
In moments of peace, which is a world away from the busy Michaelmas term, I sometimes reserve a small moment of the week to have a general explore of the stack.
This may seem an odd thing to do, but I find that practising the ability to locate objects deep down in stacks, not only familiarises myself with Pembroke’s collections (which is handy for enquiries) but it makes me more efficient at collections work. After all, being able to locate objects and information is a skill. Plus, it’s fun!
I scan through the special collection catalogues. I jot down interesting rare books and objects making note of their classification and then head down to the stack to find them. I once found a 19th century judge’s wig.
Today, I locate a collection of military medals, including an OBE awarded to a “college servant”; his medal is paired with “his licence to occupy a College room”. I jot down his name to find in The Gazette (this is where the king’s/queen’s New Year and Birthday honours lists are published) to research at a later date.
I read the new module of my cataloguing training and take notes. I plan how to approach the practical elements which I will do tomorrow. I find cataloguing rewarding work – making information discoverable and accessible is hugely fulfilling.
I finish my remaining admin. There are no new books to shelve, so I catch up with my emails. I then do a final sweep of the reading rooms and tidy up. I jot down tasks to do tomorrow.
The Sackler Library is a five-floor tall hub for multiple humanities subjects: archaeology and the ancient world, art and architectural history. It is also known as one of the principal research libraries within the Bodleian family. In other words, if you work here, there is always something to do!
Trainee life is incredibly varied – I attend weekly training sessions with my cohort, swap libraries with my fellow Taylorian counterpart, or work on my project with the library’s former Art & Architecture Librarian. However, for this ‘Day in the Life’, I will be documenting a more typical day at the library and the important tasks that keep it functioning.
8:45 – Arrival
I arrive at the Sackler Library after – very thankfully – a walk through Oxford in the sunshine! On my way in, I’ll check our book display table and make sure everything is neat and presentable. Once I’ve settled down at my desk, I will sign in on teams and check any emails which have come through. Generally, I will set some rough objectives for the day, and plan how to fit these in alongside my duties. Sometimes I’ll check in with my colleagues, which is the best way to start the day.
9:00 – Book processing and classifying
I first decide to look over some “problem books” set aside by my colleagues during processing. This normally means there is an issue with their ALEPH record (ALEPH is the library’s current cataloguing system: it contains information about the book’s contents and how it might be stored in a library). For example, occasionally these books will be missing a shelfmark, be allocated to an incorrect floor, or the physical book will be labelled differently to its online record.
At the Sackler, we have a range of shelfmarks; there are several in-house systems, as well as the more common Library of Congress Classification which marks most of our Art & Architecture books. Given this mix, it’s very important to double check books when they arrive here. Today I was looking at books with incorrect shelfmarks.
One fun thing about being the Sackler trainee is that I also get to work once a week at the Nizami Ganjavi Library (NGL), just down the road from the Sackler. Here, we’ve been working on a big reclassification project. My supervisor there has been kind enough to teach me how to either find, or manually work out, Library of Congress shelfmarks. This is something which – after six months of library work – brings me a lot of satisfaction and joy. It’s a bit like learning a new language or understanding a code. This means I can identify LCC shelfmarks, and add them to our Sackler books when they are missing!
Once I had updated the records on ALEPH to have the correct shelfmark, I then print new labels and write the new code inside. Some of the books are reader requests, so I’ll get in touch and let them know that they are ready for their consultation. The others are placed on a shelf, ready to go on our New Book Display every Monday. Here, readers can explore new titles in the Library, which they may not otherwise think of consulting.
9:30 – Lapse list
Next, I move on to the lapse list. These are BSF (offsite book storage facility) books with expired loans, so they need scanning through ALEPH (which also, handily, is our circulation system) and packed up in crates. The Sackler Library gets a lot of books from the BSF, probably because of the library’s size and how central it is. Often I’ll listen to a podcast whilst I work through this.
10:00 – Morning break
Break time! This morning I pop to the staff room and make a coffee. For me, its really important to take a break from my desk to give my mind space to focus on something different.
10:20 – Post
One of my trainee duties is looking at the library’s post. We get a range of things sent to us, from journals to donated books. Today I look at my favourite part, our donations: for example, books sent to us from Art Galleries which might be added to our collections.
Once I have unboxed them, I check if books are held at either the Sackler or Bodleian library, or we have a legal deposit copy. This can take some time as I often need to translate titles to get more information – and it’s easy to get engrossed looking at some of the art books’ beautiful images! Once I’ve looked at whether there are other copies of the book, I fill out a ‘donations flag’. These books then need to go to the relevant subject librarian, who will decide what to do with them next.
11:15 – Long office
Once I have filled out all the donation information, I take the post upstairs to the Sackler’s ‘long office’. This is where the subject librarian shelves are held. With the help of our little ladder (indeed, working in libraries is a fast cure for any fear of heights you might have), I place the books accordingly, and then pick up more post on my way down to look at over the next few days.
11:30 – Problem-solving
Once I have returned to my office desk, I meet with our senior library assistant to discuss what to do with donations which are less relevant to the Sackler’s subject areas. I email relevant libraries which the books may be of interest to, and write out a rough plan for the rest of the afternoon.
12:00 – Lunch
For lunch, I always go outside to stretch my legs. The Sackler is in the centre of Oxford, so I am never without beautiful walks and things to see. Sometimes, I’ll meet my friends for coffee – Saint Michael’s Street down the road is home to some of the best cafés, which is a bonus of the Sackler’s location!
13:00 – Journals
Whilst I wait for the afternoon’s delivery, I process new journals. As I mentioned, the Sackler holds a variety of subjects. This means we hold a lot of journals, which each need checking when they arrive. Like the books, I check ALEPH records , label those which are confined, and write the shelfmark on our special journal stickers.
13:30- BSF Delivery
The delivery arrives, stacked five crates high. This contains books from the Bodleian’s offsite storage facility, which readers can order to consult within the Sackler Library. Each book needs to be scanned through, and given a flag with the conditions of the loan on them. Given the size of the day’s delivery (a few inches shorter than your average library assistant), this takes some time. I pop on another podcast to have on in the background, and get to work. Once the books are scanned in, they go on our ‘self collect shelves’ for readers to find.
After this, I tidy up the workroom arrange new books to be processed for the following day.
14:40 – Afternoon break
Coffee time again before my desk shift for the rest of the day.
15:00 – Desk duty
At the Sackler Library issue desk, we circulate books and answer reader enquiries. Sometimes readers struggle to find books, have questions about their hold requests, or need their Bod card registering. For the first, I am always happy to help; the Sackler reading rooms are circular, which makes it trickier to navigate if you don’t know the library well. It definitely took me several weeks to get used to the set-up!
The Issue Desk is quieter at present, given that many readers have left Oxford for Easter break. I use my time to research books for future displays, create graphics for the Trainee twitter account, or process more journals. I like working on desk as it mixes tasks with reader interaction, providing a steady flow of library work for remaining afternoon.
5:00 – End of the day
Home time! I hand over the desk to the evening team and head out. Springtime is upon us, and walking through Oxford in the setting sun is the best way to unwind from work.
[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World 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!
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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
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)!
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!
When I first started working in public libraries in the beginning of 2021, a fellow Library Assistant told me that “library work is all about managing constant interruptions”. She was, unsurprisingly, correct. What I didn’t realise upon hearing this, however, is how delightful some of these interruptions would turn out to be. Here’s just one example of a somewhat bitty but utterly delightful day at the English Faculty Library.
8:40AM – Morning Routines
There are a few things that I try to get out of the way first thing in the morning – they’re small jobs, usually a little piecemeal or done in a different order each day for various reasons:
Opening up the library: I’m usually first to arrive, so I start by opening up the library for the day. This means checking that we have enough paper in the printers, opening windows, switching on lights, unlocking the computer room, and making sure that reader PCs are turned on. Usually someone else will arrive and help me out (thank goodness!).
BSF collection: When I sit down at my desk, my first task is to dig out the lapse list from the EFL email account. This list tells me which books I need to pull from the Self Collect shelves in the reading room to return to the BSF. Once I’m done with this, I collect any BSF books that have been self-returned, and then start scanning everything through and packing them into boxes. Usually we’re moving somewhere between 1-3 large blue boxes, so it’s easy for me to take these to the collection area by myself on a trolley.
Daily admin: After this, I’ll quickly flip through my emails and start actioning items into my task list on Outlook by their priority, check my teams messages, and respond to things that can be dealt with quickly. There’s a very little to deal with today, which makes planning my time much easier!
Handle anything left on my desk: There are some jobs around the library that are designated trainee tasks, and these will often be left on my desk or in the visible vicinity. This might be something like post, a missing book form, or a claimed return that needs chasing. Today, it’s in-house periodicals! Most periodical subscriptions are available online, but the EFL still holds a small number of print editions in-house – when these are used by readers, they’re passed to me so that I can track their usage on a spreadsheet before they’re reshelved.
9AM – New Periodicals
One of the tasks left on my desk which takes a little more time is a small stack of newly arrived periodicals. These need to first be registered on our periodicals spreadsheet, then checked in on Aleph, then physically processed with stamps, stickers, and tattle tape. Once complete, I’ll pop anything that I can out onto our New Periodicals Display (and move older editions off the display and onto the general shelves).
9:30AM – New Books
Another designated trainee task is the processing of new books for the EFL. I try to wait until I have a stack of about 6 new books before I start processing them, as they’re easiest to do in batches. Today, lo and behold, I have a perfect 6 awaiting my attention on my trolley! Our Library Assistant in Charge of Collections has already set them up on Aleph and given them barcodes, so I start by physically processing them with stickers, stamps, and book plates. There’s more to be done with them yet – but first, I have some other urgent business to attend to!
10AM – Trainee Twitter Meeting
Yep – you heard it here first, folks! The current trainee cohort is in the process of setting up our very own Oxford Libraries Trainees twitter account! A small trainee twitter team has been having meetings around once a week for a while now to solidify our ideas, plan our content strategies, and prepare for our launch date. It’s a project I’m really excited to be a part of. It’s a brilliant opportunity to participate in shaping what the traineeship will look like in future and to improve outreach to the next generation of librarians.
11AM – Tea Break
The meeting wraps up around 11AM, and I’m in need of a tea break. Once a week I let myself head upstairs to the Missing Bean Café for a proper coffee and a doughnut, but most days I stay in the EFL. We have a good kettle and an abundance of communal snack foods in our break area – today I opt for breakfast tea and a mini chocolate chip muffin. Small delights, eh?
11:20AM – Back to New Books
With most of my morning duties out of the way, I’m free to get back to prepping our new books. Next up they need tattle taping and then covering. Covering can take anywhere between a few minutes and the best part of an hour, depending on what needs doing. Hardbacks need nothing done to them. Hardbacks with paper sleeves need a plastic cover put over the paper sleeve. Paperbacks are the most time-consuming, requiring the application of sticky-black plastic across the entire cover – watch out for bubbles below the surface!
There is a brief caveat of an interruption during my new book processing – at 11:30, I need to do my daily reader count. This is a very high-tech and sophisticated operation, during which I walk around the entire library and try to count the number of readers using the space (arguably, with varying degrees of success). It grants me a few awkward looks from confused readers, but it’s nice to take a stroll around the library and bid a good morning to Mr Tolkien’s bust as I pass.
12 Noon – Lunch
No free lunches for Bodleian staff, sadly, but I have leftovers to keep me going. In the warmer months, I like to take the lengthy (2 minute) stroll to the Holywell Cemetery – a graveyard turned nature reserve with some lovely shady benches that are just perfect for sitting and reading. Sadly, I recorded my day on the 21st of February – when we’re under a yellow weather warning for wind – so I hide in the office and read at my desk instead. Today’s choice is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.
1PM – Desk Duty
After lunch, it’s my turn on the enquires desk, where I’m kept company by Bill, our rubber duck. Despite the fact that the EFL is a loaning library, we have no (functional) self-service machines, so all books have to be checked in and out of the library manually. Readers may also come to us with all kinds of queries, but most common are “can you help me find this book?”, “how do I use the printers?” and “can I please use the TP room?” (I’ll explain this later). Interacting with readers is for the most part a delightful experience, and it’s lovely getting to know familiar faces and trying to make a good first impression on the new ones.
It’s very rare that I’m overrun with enquiries, so I can usually spend a little time doing computer-based tasks while on the desk. Today, I’m working on a New Books blog. I write these once a month, selecting 5 books that we’ve acquired in the last month and writing a little bit about each of them. It helps me to keep abreast of our collections and it’s fun picking out the most intriguing titles. Sometimes I’m even able to do them to a theme (like this one for Black History Month!) though this is heavily dependent on the relevance of recently acquired items to current events.
3PM – BSF Delivery
Our daily BSF Delivery is usually made somewhere between 2PM-3PM, so once I’ve been relieved of the enquiries desk, I take the lift down to collect it. Today’s delivery is 2 boxes, made up of a mix of Self-Collect items, new books, returns from ARACU (the Accessible Resources Acquisition and Creation Unit), and reservations for the issue desk (some low-use loanable EFL items are kept at the BSF, and can be ordered for borrowing). I start by sorting everything into piles, then quickly pass the new acquisitions to our Library Assistant in Charge of Collections.
Next I process the BSF books: I check them in on Aleph, add a green slip, and load them onto a trolley in order of their collection code. Once these are all sorted, they can be taken out to the reading room and added to the Self-Collect shelf. I usually give the shelf a little tidy at this point, as it can get quite messy with all the readers who use it. After this, I process the holds on the reservations, return all the ARACU books – and then take a big deep breath and decide it’s time for a tea break.
3:30PM – Tea Break
Another cup of tea! I try to resist taking another snack from the staff room. Sometimes I’m more successful than others…
3:50 – Once More, New Books
I told you this was all about managing interruptions! The final stages are simple, add shelf marks to the spines, put label protectors over them so they don’t fall off, then sensitize the books. Then I can add the books to the EFL’s LibraryThing account. This allows anyone to see a list of what the EFL is acquiring. It’s a helpful addition to SOLO, as it allows you to see all the newer books in one place. We can also customise the listings through tags; if the reader were interested in, say, modernism, they could find a list of over 200 books on the subject.
Last but not least, the books can be marked as ‘New Books Display’ on Aleph/SOLO, then artfully arranged on our New Books Display – handily located right next to our door!
4:15 – TP Room
There is one more interruption in the midst of this new book processing (I did tell you I’d come back to explain this later!). A colleague comes in and says that a reader needs to be taken down to the TP Room.
TP Room stands for Turville-Petre Room (it’s also known as the Icelandic Room). It’s named after Gabriel Turville-Petre, once a Professor of Ancient Icelandic Literature and Antiquities at Oxford, who donated his private library to the English Faculty Library upon his death. The TP Room itself doesn’t house his collection, but instead holds our Icelandic materials, classic sagas, Norse mythologies, and modern periodicals on the same themes. The same name applying to a separate room and collection is, admittedly, sometimes a cause for confusion…
The TP Room is not actually housed within the library itself. To access it, readers have to collect a TP Card from the enquiries desk and head downstairs into the midst of the English Faculty itself. It’s a small space, but utterly delightful. Caged bookcases line every wall, and the room is decorated with photographs of Gabriel Turville-Petre, as well as antique card catalogues and pieces of volcanic rock. It is in almost constant use throughout the week. As staff, our job is simply to head down when requested, unlock the room, and open the cages so that readers can access the books.
4:30 – Reading Room Checks
I have one final task I need to complete for today, and that’s to run a report on the reading room. This is a simple procedure done through Aleph, which produces a list of all the BSF Self-Collect books currently loaned out to our reading room. During term time, this report typically ends up about 10 pages long. I print this out, dig out a clipboard, and head into the reading room to check that everything is where it’s supposed to be. If anything is amiss, I make a note of it on my list.
Usually, a reader is simply using the book at the time I make the check, so I perform secondary and tertiary checks on other days and times. However, it’s not uncommon for readers to muddle up their books and accidentally take home BSF books (which are meant to stay in the library at all times). If this ends up being the case, I send off some emails to the readers and get everything squared away.
5:00 – Homeward Bound
With my work done for the day I wash up my mug, straighten everything on my desk, and dig out my bus pass. My fellow trainee from Teddy Hall was very correct to say that Oxford is a city with so much to do. I’ll often stay to meet a friend for dinner, see a show at the New Theatre or the Playhouse, or meet other trainees for food or drinks – but tonight I’m actually headed out of the city. I have a very important D&D game to get to on Monday nights.
The day-to-day life of a graduate library trainee can be really varied, especially in college libraries, and my role at New College Library is no exception. I’ve written about a typical day containing all my usual tasks, but, in reality, what my days look like depends so much on whether the students are on vacation, whether we have an exhibition approaching, or what point in the term we’re at. During vacations, I am freer to work on projects that might otherwise be more disruptive for readers, such as stock checking or re-spacing shelves, or might take me away from my desk in the library office to consult a manuscript in our Special Collections Reading Room, or help to film a video for our Curators’ Choice series.
Although New College Library doesn’t have an information desk, our library office is very open and right next to the library entrance hall so it’s easy for readers to come and ask questions. This is the room where I spend most of my time and the first place I go when I arrive in the morning…
09:00 My day starts with a brief look at my emails and email calendar to see if there’s anything happening that day that I should know about. The thing to look out for is whether we have any readers coming in to look at special collections, as this requires a bit of preparation. Then I log on to the college intranet to book my (free!) lunch.
09:15 Then it’s time to retrieve the Click and Collect requests from the library shelves. This was an initiative started in the pandemic when library use was more restricted, but it remains popular, so we’ve decided to keep it going. Every morning I pick up a selection of requested books, and leave them, labelled, on a trolley in the entrance hall for readers to collect.
10:00 After these initial morning tasks, I have more flexibility to structure my own day. At this point in the morning, I might take a trip to the bell tower in college, to pick up some manuscripts or early printed books. Readers come in to consult items from our special collections at least once or twice a week and one of my jobs is to collect items from the bell tower so that they can temporarily be stored in our Special Collections Reading Room. When this room is being used, there is always a member of library staff present to help with enquiries and keep an eye on the rare books. If I’m doing this, I can do stationary and laptop-based tasks as well, like checking reading lists against our collections, or writing blog posts like this one!
10:30 If there’s no one looking at special collections, I’ll spend the rest of my morning getting on with work in the library office. Being based here means I’m often needed to respond to readers’ questions, but, when I’m not doing that, I work on creating posts for our social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) plan for displays or exhibitions, or write some exhibition captions.
13:00 It’s lunch time! After I’ve eaten there’s often time to go into town to run a few errands, but, once the weather warms up, I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy the sunshine in the gardens at college.
14:00 Sometimes, generally in the afternoons, we host private viewings of the best parts of our special collections, either for societies or as part of a course module. These are really fun to set up as we get an in-depth look at so many great manuscripts all at once, and it’s a highlight of my job to then be able to share them with such enthusiastic readers.
If we have no out of the ordinary events happening in the afternoon, I can devote my attention to the post and unpacking all the new books, which have usually arrived by this time of day. The size of delivery can hugely vary: the most I’ve dealt with at once has been about 40 books, but normally it’s between five and ten books. The journey of a book from parcel to library shelf (also known as ‘processing’) is one in which I’ve invested many hours, but, in a nutshell, I unpack the books, write an accession card for them, catalogue them (if I can), stamp, tag, label, and cover them, and they’re ready to go!
16:30 Once I’ve finished book processing, there’s usually a bit of time to tidy up any unfinished tasks from the morning and clear any expired Click and Collect requests from the trolley, until it’s time to go home at 17:00.
As a College Library trainee my days can vary a lot. During term time our Library is always busy, with students coming in and out all day (literally – we are open 24/7) to study, to find and borrow books, and to make use of our other Library services – such as our wide selection of borrowable board games!
As I’m writing this it is fourth week – almost half way through term! This is a pretty typical term time day, though with more chocolate than is normal…
9am – Sorting, Shelving, Socials
I start by scanning my own and the shared Library email inboxes for anything which needs urgent attention. I’m part of a team of three here at Teddy Hall (me – Heather, Emma – Assistant Librarian, and James – Librarian); we all share responsibility for monitoring the Library inbox and responding to queries which come in there. I then process the returns which come in overnight. In the middle of term there are rarely huge piles of books: I’d guess around 20 each morning.
Next I turn to our Click and Collect requests. The Library started offering this during 2020 to support students who were in isolation but needed to access books from the Library. Students submit a request either via email or SOLO (the University’s book-finding-website – literally, Search Oxford Libraries Online), and we find the book and deliver it either to their pigeon hole or directly to their room. Then it’s time for some shelving! I actually find shelving books a nice way to start the day: there is something very grounding about sorting everything into its rightful place. Shelving also gives me a chance to have a walk around the Library and do some general tidying – I’ll also check there is paper in the printer, free period products in the bathroom, pens in the pen pot, and staples in the stapler.
My final morning task is to check the Library social media accounts: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I’ll check whether we have any planned content to go out today, or which I need to prepare for later in the week.
10am – Blind Date with a Book
On Monday this week (7 Feb 2022) we launched Blind Date with a Book – Teddy Hall students, staff and Fellows request a book, telling us a little bit about what they like to read, and we set them up with something we think they’ll love. To celebrate Valentine’s Day and LGBTQIA+ History Month, we are selecting books with themes of gender, sexuality, and romance. Blind Date is always extremely popular, and on Monday alone we had 15 requests! This morning Emma, James and I shared ideas for what to give people who had requested books from poetry, to fantasy fiction, to a humorous and fun-to-read non-fiction. This is a really fun part of the day, and I inevitably end up with a list of books I want to read!
We wrap the books, affix a Valentine’s chocolate to the cover, and pop them in pigeon holes to await their dates…
11am – Desk Duty
I enjoy sitting at the Issue Desk, as I can help students with any queries they may have. Sometimes this can feel a bit like detective work! For example, today a student came to the desk with two items on her reading list which she and her classmates were struggling to find. The only information provided was an author name, a date, and a mysterious acronym… After some SOLO-searching, some googling and some guess work I found both articles – one of which we had in a physical book in the library. If you’re interested, the acronyms were the names of the journals in which the articles were published! Students are always really grateful for any help you can give, and so even when I feel stumped, I remember that any progress I can make in searching something out is time saved for them, and that is a good thing.
12.30pm – Lunch
You may have heard it before, but it’s worth reading again: college library jobs mean a free college lunch. These are consistently yummy, and because we all eat together, lunch in college is a really great way to chat to the rest of the Library team and also to other college staff. Today this chat covered the important topics of planetariums, dodgy ideas for fusion food, and Cadbury World.
1.30pm – Books, Books, Books
By lunchtime we’ve usually had some new books delivered, which I’ll collect from Porter’s Lodge and process. As these are often student requests, I will then almost immediately take the books back to the Lodge to put them in student pigeon holes!
2pm – Book Shopping (yes, seriously)
One of the best parts of my job is going to Blackwell’s for books. We are so lucky to have Blackwell’s as a resource and it is just a short walk from Teddy Hall, so when we can, we buy our books directly from there. This also means we can turn any requests around as quickly as possible! Today, as well as picking up a student request I am keeping my eyes open for anything which might be a great Blind Date book! I do find a personal favourite lock down read of mine: Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. As it’s a LGBTQIA+ love story, a Teddy Hall Blind Date requester should be expecting this in their pigeon hole soon!
3pm – Ticking off Tasks
This afternoon I’m sat up in my office, working on some ongoing tasks. This week I’ve got three balls which I am juggling. First, I’m preparing a book display and blog post celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science by showcasing the work of our own college Fellows.
Second, I am working through a donation of books we received over Christmas vacation – over 2,500 of them! When they arrived, we spread the books out over the thankfully-student-free desks and then organised them roughly into subjects, before putting what we could onto available shelves. The rest were boxed up and are currently living at the very top of the Teddy Hall Library tower…! We have started making lists of the books in the donation, and will decide what we want to keep and what we will offer to other libraries. If it’s a quiet day during term I might spend some time on this, but mostly this will get picked up properly again at Easter.
Third, I am planning my own Trainee project. As part of the Traineeship, we all work on an individual project which we then present about at the end of the year. My project is all about making the Library more sustainable… I’m really looking forward to working on this – so watch this space!
5pm – “Home” Time
One of the best things about living in Oxford is just how much there is to do in the city – and I love to take full advantage of that! From catching up with the other Trainees for a drink, to attending a seminar about medieval culture (I did a Masters in Medieval English Literature!), to meeting friends for dinner, or playing in orchestra (optional seminars and orchestra?! Yes – I am a bit of a nerd), Oxford is a great place to be. And there is loads to do which won’t break the bank! Today, though, it’s straight home for a hot chocolate and to continue reading Ali Smith’s wonderful book ‘Spring’.