The Social Science Library (SSL) is one of the University of Oxford’s busiest lending and reference libraries, supporting staff and students in the Social Sciences Division. It offers a wide range of workspaces, as well as borrowing services, printing and IT facilities and research support.
In my introductory post, I mentioned a Black History Month display, and in this post I hope to talk a little more about how it was put together at the SSL. While I organised and physically constructed it, the credit for text and research goes to the subject librarians. I asked them in the last weeks of September to put forward a book with an accompanying recommendation, either reviews of the book that they thought held it in high regard, or their own words on why they thought it was an important, worthy read. A balance had to be found between books that were good recommendations, but also ones that we had in the library as physical copies.
As I received e-book recommendations as well, I provided posters with QR code links through to the online resource, as we would normally for the month’s new e-book acquisitions. As a rule, these tend to be titles on reading lists, and are on balance intended for a more academic audience. The books we displayed physically are by and large a little more appropriate as general reading for people regardless of their academic background.
I transcribed the recommendations onto documents in the SSL’s house style and sourced some display stands, then arranged to replace half of our new books display with the BHM display for the duration of October. I was keen to get the display on show during 0th week when we had our tours going around the library; it’s of course important when welcoming new students that you give a positive impression of the library (and university). I hope that we therefore established ourselves as an institution that is keen to engage in learning how to be anti-racist, and indeed one that is keen to take anti-racist action. This is just a display, and to live up to that hope we’ll need to take action year-round and be conscious of what we can do to stand up against racism (and anti-blackness in particular) both within the university and outside it.
The books and recommendations can be seen in more detail on the SSL blog.
If anyone has suggestions for other books we should highlight, I’d be delighted to hear in comments below, or marked for my attention in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi! I’m Morgan, the trainee at the Social Science Library!
I’m a former bookseller and I’m a medievalist, interested in the transmission of the romance genre between Anglo-French sources and Old Norse-Icelandic. I’ve wanted to work in libraries for several years, and had applied to college traineeships, but not the Bodleian one, which has such an early application window!
In the last year I put more time into job applications for library work, and it was when I got a part time position at the SSL last October that I felt I had actually got somewhere. I began working at the Taylor Institution Library in January 2022, again with part time hours, and these bits of experience meant I was able to put forward a much stronger traineeship application. I don’t think that previous work in the library sector is by any means necessary for the traineeship, but it does undoubtedly demonstrate an interest in the field. I was able to talk much more clearly about what was happening within the library environment and where I wanted to go in the sector. Nonetheless, I’ve got lots to learn and benefit from in my trainee year, and something I’m really looking forward to is speaking to colleagues involved in the areas that interest me. I can find out if they’re right for me, and how to work towards them.
I’ve had a great first month (and a bit) at the SSL so far. The role of the trainee here is a blend of reader and technical services. We take a turn staffing the desk like everyone else and are the main staff responsible for managing the enquiries inbox, sorting room bookings et cetera. We also spend a considerable amount of time off desk, processing books, looking for missing ones, and assisting technical staff when their workload increases at key points in the university year.
The last three weeks have been a busy period of anticipating and meeting demand for readers later in the year, in terms of reviewing reading lists, scheduling and conducting training sessions, and most of all, leading tours of the library. I am scheduled for 15 across 0th week and am about halfway through at the time of writing – I think I’ve spoken more this week than I have since I stopped working in retail!
I’ve also really enjoyed producing a display for Black History Month, which I did with contributions from subject librarians. Sourcing texts from across the social sciences’ subjects was opportunity to consider how racism can be studied and interrogated differently in diverse disciplines. I’m particularly keen to read The Color of Law (Richard Rothstein), as well as Against Decolonisation (Olúfemi Táíwò), a legal deposit item that came through amongst lots of interesting recent publishing in the last month or so.
With all that said, I’m looking forward to getting past 0th week, and getting into the regular rhythm of term and resuming our Wednesday training sessions!
Hello! Unfortunately, due to testing positive for Covid a few days before the Showcase, I was not able to attend and present my project. I will therefore attempt to re-create it as this blog post. By way of introduction, my name is Katie and I have been the graduate trainee 2.0 for the Social Science Library for 5 months and counting. My experience with the Bodleian began on a boring and drizzly Monday working from home, when I very unexpectedly received a call asking if I was still interested in working as the SSL graduate trainee for 6 months. I said very much so yes please, and a few weeks later packed my bags and moved from Derbyshire to Oxford. A quick disclaimer…I have not managed to undertake a formal project in my 5 months, so will talk about some core (hopefully interesting) mini projects which I have thoroughly enjoyed working on in this time.
First up: promotional campaigns. Every week in term time, we have a ‘promotional campaign’ – this involves creating a blog post, entry gate poster, LCD screen display, entrance display stand, Facebook post and Tweet, all around one central theme. For the third week of Trinity Term, I made a campaign on ‘Wellbeing’. To start, I created an entrance display stand which pointed out spaces to relax in around the SSL. These included the upstairs café, multiple seating areas in the building, the vending machine area, and green areas such as University Parks and the Botanical Gardens – with the help of Google Maps, I included how many minutes it takes to walk there so students could plan their study breaks accordingly. Whilst on my issue desk shifts I saw a total of 3 people stop to read it, which I consider a small but satisfying success! My entrance stand poster pointed out the vending machines upstairs (as they are a bit hidden), whilst also cheekily reinforcing that food or non-KeepCup drinks should not be brought into the library… A problem I encountered with my LCD display, which aimed to show the different counselling services provided by the University, was how to visually represent counselling support – when choosing my background images, for example, I didn’t want to evoke any sort of stereotype or negativity. I could have made it a plain display but this would not be very eye-catching. In the end, I went with a photograph of a tree at the beginning of dawn, as I thought this suitably aesthetic whilst also conveying a sense of hope and positivity.
I had a similar issue with representing the idea of ‘health’ in my second promotional campaign, which was titled ‘Sources of Help for Exam Pressure’. For my LCD display, I created a range of tips for how to keep healthy during exam season, such as not drinking too much coffee (super hypocritical!) and some good brain foods to snack on (outside the library of course…). My problem was that health looks different for everyone, so I didn’t want a picture of someone working out or eating a salad as my title slide. After a lot of digging on Pixabay, I found a picture of a woman happily leaping in the air on a hiking trail, and decided this was an acceptable way to represent ‘healthy’ – having the energy and peace of mind to do things you enjoy.
Whilst researching for this campaign, I discovered that the University Counselling Service has a range of free podcasts tackling issues around exam stress, such as anxiety and pre-exam insomnia. They also run free online and in-person workshops, titled things like ‘ACT-Based Anxiety Group’ and ‘Can’t Work’. For my entrance display stand, I aimed to make passers-by aware that this support exists. I created QR codes to take them directly to the website, in case they wanted more information or to sign up. I also featured these workshops and podcasts in more detail for my blog post on ‘Sources of Help for Exam Stress’. I have included my original presentation slides illustrating the full campaigns below:
I will now move on from this topic to discuss a task I was not expecting – hosting a work experience student for several mornings/afternoons across a week. This was something I was quite nervous about, as to have someone watching and learning from me felt a bit of a responsibility. I also found it quite a challenge to talk engagingly for long periods of time, especially in the morning! However, I think I managed to give them a good overview of my day-to-day tasks, and there was some opportunity for them to get hands-on experience with supervision. To prevent it getting too repetitive for them, I thought it might be nice if they could take the lead on a project – creating a Pride Month Display. They were able to select the titles themselves on SOLO, locate them on the shelves, arrange them in display form, and together we created the display graphics. They could then take photos of what we had made and take this back to school. All in all, it was a great experience (hopefully they thought so too!) and helped me to practice some rather lacking leadership skills…The strangest part was when I was asked to help fill in their work experience journal, which involved answering questions such as ‘how did you get where you are today?’ and ‘what skills do you need for your job?’. I had to scramble for a more helpful answer than ‘I’m not sure really…’, but it also gave me a moment to feel happy and grateful for what I have achieved.
Something I have found quite challenging whilst working as a graduate library trainee is helping test the new library management system ALMA. I first started with the ‘advanced search’ function, trying to use it to generate reports on things like how many books are out on loan, how many patrons owe money to the library etc. In the majority of cases, I was unsuccessful. I found it quite difficult to say whether it was me or the system who was wrong. It was also a challenge figuring out how to write understandable test ‘scripts’ which recorded exactly what steps I took, followed by the outcomes and whether these met my intended goal. I’m not sure my contribution was very helpful, but thankfully I did a bit better with testing user loan periods. I found this much easier, as I simply had to record whether the different user types had been given the correct number of days to return different loan types. The only slight hiccup was that the developers were still working on it at the same time I was testing, so the results sometimes changed day by day. It was certainly eye-opening to see the vast number of different users we have at the Bodleian!
And to conclude, something I have really enjoyed during my traineeship is helping out with the move of the Tylor Library to the SSL. For a number of weeks, we have had long rows of stacked green crates filling the library isles, and lots of empty spaces on our shelves to hold the new books. Initially, my role was to help with the physical re-processing of any Tylor items that were requested whilst still in the crates. This involved digging the book out, covering the old Tylor book plate with an SSL one and adding a spine trigger. If the reader had requested the book via email I could place a hold on it for them, but if they asked for it over the issue desk I would frantically try to remember what they look like and track them down somewhere in the library. The start-to-end process felt very rewarding. Later, I was asked to help the PADS team with processing the thesis collection. I was therefore loading trolleys full of big, musty theses, re-processing and then reshelving them, which really left my arms aching by the end of the day!
It’s week four of our ‘interview with a former trainee’ series – how time flies! This week we hear from Katie Day (Taylor Institution Library, 2018/19), Natasha Kennedy (English Faculty Library, 2013/14) and Georgina Kiddy (Social Science Library, 2017/18)
What did you most enjoy about this experience?
I enjoyed how everyone was so keen for me to get to try everything! My colleagues made sure I could dive in and ask loads of questions. I also loved the Enquiry Desk and encountering such a wide range of questions and research queries!
The hands on experience of working in a library combined with the training. When you think of roles in libraries you initially think of cataloguing or being a subject librarian. The training showed show many more career paths and different areas to specialise in.
Attending the training sessions on Wednesday afternoons at Osney. This was a great chance to learn about the variety of roles at the Bodleian and across academic Libraries, as well as meet my fellow trainees.
Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?
The trip to the BSF and round other libraries (I especially remember the public library talk!) were great, but the most useful was probably the talk on library school. I knew a bit about the US route, but didn’t know where to start with the UK and that really helped me – particularly the honesty of the current students who came in to discuss it.
I loved the talk by Frankie Wilson, Head of Assessment as it was extremely useful in understanding what I can do to create services that readers need and want. I also found visits to other libraries such as Oxford public library to be very useful in gaining a greater understanding of the roles of Librarians in different types of libraries.
I enjoyed the variety of training, guest speakers and tours of archives and libraries. I think the most interesting were the tours of the Bodleian’s special collections and archives.
Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?
Yes, I went part-time to UCL right after, and I just finished my MA last year! I’d applied to the traineeship to use it as a ‘taster’ before committing to grad school, and it absolutely confirmed that this was something I wanted to make my career. I picked UCL both for its Cat&Class/Organising Knowledge classes, which I thought were fascinating and not something other schools really offered, but also so that I could continue to live and work part-time in Oxford while attending library school in person. (While, as you can tell from my dates, I was only in-person for half that time, I still loved it!)
I attended Library School straight after the traineeship finished, working full time in the position of Lending Services Supervisor at the Radcliffe Science Library whilst undertaking the course by distance learning. The traineeship confirmed that I wanted to have a career in Librarianship, and that I wanted to gain as much experience as possible whilst doing the Masters.
I went on to do the 3-year MA Libraries and Information Services Management course at Sheffield University, which I have now completed. The traineeship greatly encouraged me to apply and I don’t think I would have committed to the course had I not made it onto the Bodleian traineeship.
In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?
An understanding of academic librarianship and what I wanted from my career. Also, my partner (a fellow 2018/19 trainee)!
Making connections with colleagues, and trying out as many different things as possible by saying yes to opportunities. I was the trainee representative on a University wide group, and asked the Chair whether I could stay on after my trainee year had ended as I had spotted a gap in representation that made sense with my new role. I have just finished a stint of chairing that same group. If I hadn’t joined, then had the courage to ask to stay on, I would never have had the experiences or career I have today.
I really appreciated being able to get involved with a trainee project of my own choosing and having the opportunity to present. This was something that I didn’t have a lot of experience of beforehand and so I think this stuck with me as a pivotal moment of the traineeship.
What are you doing now?
I’m still at the Taylorian as a Library Assistant, but by time of publication I’ll have started at the EFL as a Senior Library Assistant, with a focus on collections! I’m very excited.
I am the Reader Services Librarian of the Bodleian Library, and Learning Support Librarian for MSc Digital Scholarship
I am the Online Reading List Coordinator at the Bodleian Libraries. In this role I support the University in developing and maintaining the ORLO system to ensure readers have access to live and interactive reading lists and materials for their courses.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
If you’re not sure whether to give this a go, this is your sign! I moved to Oxford from Chicago, and having a whole bunch of trainees in the same boat made it all much less intimidating. Also, thank you to everyone at the Taylorian for a great traineeship + three bonus years!
I really enjoyed our visit to London; it was a lovely addition to the traineeship experience. I went to the London Library and the Natural History Museum Library. I was grateful to Staff Development for organising this.
For some bonus content, feel free to check out Katie’s introductory post to the Bodleian Libraries here:
Continuing with our series, this week we hear from Grace Brown (St Hilda’s College Library, 2013/14), Lauren Ward (Social Science Library, 2018/19), and Kate Courage (Bodleian Libraries, 2003/04).
What did you most enjoy about this experience?
In a college library, you’re working in a very small team, so I was able to get involved in lots of aspects of library work, from book ordering to attending college meetings, with plenty of customer service and processing books in between. I had the freedom to explore a few things I was interested in, such as creating floorplans and putting together a small display on the alumna Barbara Pym. One downside of a smaller team is having to take the lion’s share of the reshelving, but it quickly teaches you where everything is, and my ‘St Hilda’s Shelfmarks: A Guide for the Understandably Perplexed’ kicked off my love of documentation (a talking point at parties).
I enjoyed being part of Oxford’s library community, and met so many friendly and knowledgeable people during my traineeship. We had loads of opportunities to get involved with projects and events across the libraries to try things out & learn, and I learned a lot from my fellow trainees as well.
I loved moving between departments and getting an overview of the workings of the Library as a whole. I also really appreciated the training programme, provided centrally, and the opportunity to meet trainees across Oxford.
Were there any specific training sessions that you found particularly interesting/useful?
The trips to the BSF, Oxford Brookes and London libraries were a useful insight into other types of library. I was also very interested by Frankie Wilson’s session on assessment (measuring how libraries are meeting the needs of patrons), and by hearing about various librarians’ paths into their current roles.
I found the training session on library qualifications so useful as I was completely overwhelmed by the choices out there. It was helpful to hear from current/recent students of several library schools – talking about how their courses were structured helped me make my decision. We also had a training session introducing us to what colleagues in Acquisitions & Resource Description do to support the running of the libraries, and as they don’t have a trainee in this department it was a nice insight into a different area of library work that I didn’t know much about.
I valued the sessions that gave an insight into other forms of librarianship, e.g. health librarianship, even though I ended up staying in Higher Education.
Following on from your traineeship, did you (or are you planning to) go to library school? Did the traineeship influence your thoughts on this?
I did my library master’s degree at Aberystwyth University by distance learning over the course of five years (2014 to 2019). I had already been planning to do the qualification when I started the traineeship. Had the Sheffield course been available by distance learning when I started, and having now been present when Stephen Pinfield has given his talk about that course to trainee cohorts, I would likely have chosen Sheffield instead. At the time, options were more limited, and I don’t remember too much about that session. The Aberystwyth course did give me a lot of flexibility to work around life and job changes, but it wasn’t very structured or hands-on. The expense (and time, if you’re working full-time) of the MA can be a real obstacle for a lot of people, and I think now there’s slightly more recognition of this.
I did, and I’ve just finished my MA at UCL. The traineeship helped me make the choice to do a professional qualification rather than a different MA course, as I knew I wanted to stay in libraries and wanted to do something that would benefit my future career. The training session we had on Master’s options also helped me pick UCL, as I knew I wanted to study rare books and not all schools have that option.
I went on to a part-time masters course, while continuing to work full time in Oxford (with day release to do my course). The traineeship helped me decide to take this step and also to do the course part-time, so I could continue to work.
In hindsight, what was the most useful thing you took away from the traineeship?
A good overview of how different libraries and areas of library work operate. And an enduring friendship.
The SSL has a big friendly team and its trainees support most members of it in one task or another. I felt my traineeship there gave me such a good grounding in how a well-run library works and I’ve taken their best practice ideas with me into subsequent jobs.
The broad overview of academic librarianship, the contacts and the opportunities for further work.
What are you doing now?
I am Reader Services Manager for the Sackler, Taylor Institution & Nizami Ganjavi Libraries – we are ‘Section 3’ of the Humanities libraries group. Essentially, I oversee staffing and procedures across the three sites, as well as working towards greater interoperability between the teams (i.e. standardising how we do things so it’s easier for staff to move between them).
I’m a senior library assistant in the Bodleian’s reader services team.
I am now the Academic Support Manager for Teaching and Learning at Warwick University.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
A shout-out to my first boss, Maria Croghan, who hired me as a trainee and gave me my route into the field after a number of unsuccessful applications. Library jobs are competitive at all levels, and there’s no shame in being rejected!
I’d encourage anyone considering library work to use the trainee scheme to give it a go! It’s a good springboard into future library jobs, and knowing I’d have a cohort of fellow trainees also made the idea less intimidating. I moved from quite far away (Hull) but I had plenty of people to get to know Oxford with, and some trainees even organised to house-share together before we moved.
For some bonus content, feel free to check out Grace’s introductory post to the Bodleian Libraries here:
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.
9:00 – I switch on my computer, load up the main enquiries email box and begin filtering through queries from readers. These commonly include researchers struggling to access a database, students who can’t return to the UK but have a pile of books due at the SSL, and suggestions for resources to add to our collections. I really enjoy being able to make a difference to someone’s research by helping them find a resource they’ve been struggling to access. Additionally, the main inbox is where the room booking requests from our Google Form are delivered, so I filter through these and add them to the calendar.
9:15 – I begin opening up the library with a colleague, switching the self-issue machine and printers on, and deleting any expired hold requests. Once we’ve wheeled in the out of hours book returns box, we open up the doors and begin to let readers in.
9:30 – The library is now open, and I take the first desk shift of the day. This involves assisting readers with their questions, lending and returning books, and answering the phone. When I first started this job, I was nervous to be on the desk on my own as the thought that the readers could ask me anything felt intimidating. However, working with the students and academics has become one of my favourite parts of the job, and I know I can always ask a colleague for advice if the question is a bit rogue. When the desk is quiet, I work on a project which involves making sure any online resources for Social Science courses (eBooks, podcasts, YouTube videos) are marked clearly as viewable online on the reading list, and that the links to these work.
10:30 – I take a break! Sometimes I take a trip to The Missing Bean Café in the St Cross Building next door to catch up with a fellow trainee and reward ourselves with a doughnut.
10:50 – For the rest of the morning, I’m processing new books. This involves some physical processing: sticking in a slip about returning books, stamping it with an SSL stamp, covering it with sticky back plastic, and inserting “tattle tapes”, which are thin magnets that stick in between the pages of our books to trigger the exit gates unless desensitised when loaned to the reader. After this, I process the book on Aleph, our library management system, which involves creating a holding and adding the shelf mark, reading list codes, and marking the book as loanable or a library use only copy. Once this is complete, the information will display on the user’s end – SOLO – so that they can search for and find the book.
12:30 – It’s lunchtime! Time to take a walk to the University Parks around the corner for some fresh air and a break away from the library.
1:30 – Another desk shift! I continue responding to the enquiries in the SSL’s email box. I also log a reader onto our Bloomberg terminal. This is a high demand PC that has access to current and historical financial data on currencies and the stock market. To keep the data secure we don’t give out the password for it, which is why we have to assist researchers in accessing the terminal. I also make sure to organise the post that has been delivered to us, sifting through new physical copies of journals and letters for the librarians before popping them in their pigeonholes. I finish up by scanning in and popping onto the shelves the newly arrived Bodleian stack requests that readers order from the storage facility to be accessed in the reading rooms.
2:30 – I take some time to create a blog post advertising upcoming Bodleian iSkills sessions which are relevant to researchers and students in the Social Sciences. These usually cover topics such as Open Access, referencing, or finding appropriate research materials. Once this is written up, I schedule the post along with a Tweet and Facebook post so the sessions reach as wide an audience as possible. I then fetch some books requested by the Accessible Resources Unit who take our print copies of books and transform them into electronic text, Braille, audio and tactile diagrams for users with disabilities. I make sure to select a clean copy as sadly there is often lots of highlighting or written notes which can make the process difficult! However, the turnaround for this process can be really quick, which always impresses me and is great news for the students that require them.
3:30 – Time for another break! Snacking gets me through the day.
4:30 – After taking 5 minutes to water the plants, I update the new books display with brand new legal deposit books, research books and print outs of some new eBook covers too. This helps keep the library looking fresh and up to date whilst also allowing our readers to access the new releases in their field quickly. It’s also an opportunity to be a bit creative and directly contribute something to the readers’ experience at the library.
5:30 – Time to go home! No need to lock up as the SSL is open until 10pm on weeknights, so after handing over to my evening colleagues, my day is done.
With the holidays fast approaching, decorations have started to appear in the Libraries and a festive spirit is in the air. For some of our Graduate Library Trainees, it has been the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year so far, and talk about some of the highlights of their role.
Heather Barr, St Edmund Hall
We brought Christmas to St Edmund Hall’s Old Library this year with a display of books and archive materials with fun festive facts and college celebrations throughout the years. Our display includes beautiful wintery paintings, including one of Teddy Hall’s Front Quad in Snow (1966), given to Principal Kelly by the artist, Alexandra Troubetzkoy (see right). Our Old Library is home to the first scientific publication to interrogate the shape of snowflakes (see left): Johannes Kepler’s C. Maiest. mathematici strena seu De niue sexangula (1611) (SEH Shelfmark 4° G 18(6)).
Keplerconjectures that they must be formed as such to optimise their tessellation, like a honeycomb. Or, perhaps there is some quality in the water that causes them to freeze in their signature hexagonal shape? Most importantly, he identifies a link between the shape of snowflakes and other crystalline formations in rocks.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some cards! We showcased Christmas cards from the Archives, collected and saved by Principal Emden during the Second World War (see right). These cards were sent from all over the world,including from H.M.S. Satellite, a naval ship in the middle of the ocean. Some have rather topical designs, such as a bull charging Hitler, or the three wise men being guided by a shining Intelligence Corps crest! Today, these cards serve a positive reminder that even in the midst of worldwide suffering and disaster, small messages of hope and love can go a long way.
Izzie Salter, Sackler Library
As term draws to a close, the Sackler Library has become quieter and quieter. Between issuing books on the main desk, my colleague and I have donned it with decorations. Crafted out of library paraphernalia – who knew archival tying tape could be so versatile – I hope this has brought some cheer to our more loyal readers, staying here until closure. To those based locally to the Sackler, do walk past the Ashmolean one evening. It looks beautiful this time of year.
My first term as a trainee has been wonderfully varied. I have been so fortunate to work on some amazing projects at the library, as well as spending time learning alongside my fellow trainees. A few highlights of this term include presenting Japanese photography books (which I have researched regularly over the past 3 months) at the History of Art Show and Tell, working with the trainees to produce Black History reading recommendations, and learning about conservation and special collections at the Weston Library. I can’t wait to see what the new year brings, after a restful Christmas break.
Jemima Bennett, New College Library
New College Library Christmas started particularly early, even by Oxford standards, as by mid-November we had begun to put together a Christmas exhibition, and our Twitter advent calendar, choosing items and writing captions. I have also spent several very enjoyable afternoons wrapping books for our Surprise Christmas Loan scheme, as well as decorating our Christmas tree, and helping create an iconic book sculpture (pictured here). This term has been a blast – a wide-ranging and really relevant set of training sessions, an excellent trainee cohort, and being able to work with such beautiful manuscripts are definitely some highlights.
Lucy Davies, Social Science Library
At the SSL, we got into the Christmas mood by celebratingChristmas Jumper Day.Wearing our best festive jumpers (and masks!), we raised £142 for Save the Children. A highlight of this term has been the training sessions every week and gaining an insight into all the different jobs within the Bodleian Libraries. I especially loved the trip to the Conservation Studio at the Weston Library! I also really enjoy seeing the variety of books that arrive from the BSF every day and talking to readers about their research.
Georgie Moore, St John’s College Library
If you are following any Libraries, Museums, or Archives on Twitter, you’ll probably have noticed the annual December deluge of Christmassy content.
Outside of term time, I’m responsible for scheduling one Tweet a week, so I have been prowling our catalogue for festive material. Drafting a Tweet was part of the application process for this Trainee position, but even still I didn’t realise quite how much thought goes into maintaining a consistent tone and diversity of content.
Here are three of the tweet ideas that didn’t make the cut in December (and why not):
1. A Christmas Carol is a festive favourite for many, but Charles Dickens also contributed other seasonal stories to volumes like Mugby Junction: the extra Christmas number of All the year round (Vet.Engl.76). The small font and lack of illustrations aren’t very eye-catching for a Twitter photograph, but these advertisements provide a wintery window into Victorian buying habits: juvenile gift books, patented pickles and miniature billiards. (see left)
2. ‘The Exaltation of Christmas Pye’ – this might be cheating, but the only reason I haven’t shared this is because I didn’t find it! There are some highly quotable moments in this 17th-century mock-sermon (HB4/3.a.5.8(23)) such as when the author elevates the invention of
Christmas plum pies to the same level as ‘Guns and Printing’.
3. The Psalter (MS 82) includes some beautiful medieval illustrations. I’d wanted to caption this ‘When the waiter brings the final bill to the table after the work Christmas do’ but given the cancellation of so many Christmas parties this festive season, that felt like rubbing salt in the wound. (see left)
Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library
Although I enjoy handling books as much as the next librarian, a surprising highlight for mehas been working with various forms of online resource provision.(This is perhaps less surprising to anyone who has had to listen to me talk about scanning recently).Fromtracking down resources for reading lists and LibGuides to navigating copyright restrictionsandexploring the UK Web Archive,I’ve really enjoyed my traineeship so far, and I’mlooking forward to getting more involved with certain areas in the new year.During a recentweekend shift, I was entrusted with decorating the LawBod Christmas tree – picturedis our resident angel,which I’m told was handmade by a previous trainee.
Sophie Lay, English Faculty Library
J. R. R. Tolkien and Nevill Coghill have donned now their gay apparel – the former in a classic Santa hat and the latter in a crown of golden holly tinsel – and the festive season has fully hit the English Faculty Library. As Graduate Trainee, it’s my job to decorate the library with the aforementioned festive headgear, as well as paper chains, miniature Christmas trees, and seasonal rubber ducks to join our regular desk companion, Bill Shakespeare.
The end of term has also left a little more time for reflection on the past few months. I’d be delighted to share with you just one of the parts of my job that I’ve enjoyed the most since starting here at Bodleian Libraries. Not to be incredibly corny, but interactions with readers really do add a delightful element to your average desk-shift. From friendly and familiar faces to unexpected compliments to charming lost-and-found items (including returning a child’s hand-written note which read ‘momy I luv yoo’), there is so much joy to be had in interacting with readers.
I’ll leave you off with a final festive treat. I’ve done some digging through the rare book room and have uncovered a little treasure. While it’s not the genuine article, we do have a delightful facsimile of Dicken’s original manuscript for A Christmas Carol, in his own handwriting and with his own edits – including his signature looping and cross-hatching. Just holding it makes me feel more festive!
Emily Main, History Faculty Library
The end of term was definitely noticeable in the library as students started heading home for their holidays. However, the arrival of Warner Brothers and the closure of the Upper Camera for filming has made for an interesting end before the Christmas closure. As well as being dazzled by extremely bright lights when sitting at reception and dodging crowds of fans, we’ve had to implement a book fetching service for books in the Upper Camera and trundle our BSF book crates on a circuitous route through the Old Bod and Gladstone Link! I have loved getting to know the trainees and the team here and enjoyed the variety of my role. A highlight of the role for me has been answering enquiries of readers that require me to dive into a search and investigate their question, for example, in helping them to locate primary resources.
Ben Elliott, Pembroke College Library
Christmas is here, and it is time to reflect. This term has flown by, but it’s been a good one. Pembroke’s library consists of the librarian, me and the archivist and because it is a small team it has meant my traineeship has been distinctly unique and varied. For instance, I have delivered a library induction to visiting fellows from Pembroke’s ‘The Changing Character of War Centre’ which involved talking to a room of senior military officers and a UN advisor… definitely not daunting at all! As well, I have met some truly fascinating and brilliantly eccentric individuals along the way, some even coming as far as from Utah.
It’s been particularly fun getting acquainted with Pembroke’s special collections, rare books and art collection and sharing them with students through object sessions and talks… especially when a talk discusses a naturalist’s book in our collection which attempts to convince readers that the platypus is, in fact, a real animal despite it looking odd!
Working with the college art has been brilliant. Inspecting the conditions of the college oil paintings with a freelance art conservator and the college archivist was a highlight. Staring at a painting of a 19th-century fellow whilst listening to ghost stories of said fellow is a moment I never expected in this job, but an enjoyable surprise, nonetheless.
Juliet Brown, Old Bodleian Library
As the year draws to a close, it is nice to see everyone getting excited about the holiday season. The decorations have gone up in the Bod, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Old School Quadrangle Christmas tree in pride of place.
As everyone gets ready to head home for the holidays, it is also a nice time to reflect on my first few months at the Old Bod, and the experiences that have shaped my role as the trainee in this incredible building. I have been very lucky to work within an incredibly supportive team, who put up with my constant questions and have made me feel at home in my new role. As the Old Bod trainee, I have been very fortunate in having an extremely varied working schedule. From duties in reader services (answering enquiries, issuing and returning books, leading tours, shelving, assisting with book deliveries, completing book scans), through to the more technical aspects of the role (helping with interlibrary loans, book processing, preparing books for repair, relabelling), my role has allowed me to complete an extremely diverse range of tasks. In addition, my manager has been keen for me to take on my own responsibilities, which have included designing new posters for the Lower Gladstone Link, creating instructional sheets for the evening team and rehoming a cupboard of abandoned books.
A highlight of the traineeship is the opportunity to take part in sessions designed to expand our knowledge about the various areas that make up librarianship. We have learnt about the technical skills needed for cataloguing, the complex world of Open Access, the importance of social media skills, and discovered the digital tools available to students and researchers at the University. In addition, the traineeship has allowed us to visit the Weston (for an insight into the role of the conservation team and special collections) and even spent an afternoon at the BSF.
I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings, both in terms of training and with my role, after a very restful break at home with my family, dog and lots of good food.
Fifth Week is a notorious week in the Oxford term (8 weeks long), known for ‘fifth week blues’ and the need for some well-earned rest. Things often feel particularly challenging in Michaelmas (first) term, as everything gets colder and darker. But all is not lost! The shorter evenings offer the perfect excuse to get home and curl up in the warm with a book. Here, some of our Graduate Trainee Librarians offer their favourite reads for a bit of comfort and escapism during fifth week…
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (T.S. Eliot)
In the midst of my undergraduate degree, I struggled to find the time and motivation to sit down and read a novel. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a wonderful alternative: T S Eliot provides short, witty poems about different feline characters. You can dip in and out of different poems, and will inevitably find yourself swept up in each of their wonderful worlds. My personal favourite is ‘Shimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’: with its bouncing metre and quick pace, you feel as if you are on a chugging train. I first read the poems in my early teens, drawn in by the book’s slim size and the myriad of cats on the cover. It is an undeniably comforting, joyous respite which you can revisit at any time. On rainy November days, when Oxford’s cats are curled up inside, turn to Old Possum’s Book to get your feline fix.
Izzie Salter, Sackler Library
14,000 Things to be Happy About (Barbara Ann Kipfer)
This is not a book I would recommend reading cover to cover as it actually is a list of 14000 things to be happy about, just like it says on the tin! However, it is perfect to dip in to and find a thought to brighten your day! It provides a reminder that normal, everyday, sometimes functional things can make us happy or at least grateful. For example, SatNav, Google, the smell of a coffee can opening, eight-foot-long scarves or putting things back where they were found (very appropriate for us trainees who find great satisfaction in reshelving books!). Some are very random or abstract such as strawberry flavoured milk, isosceles trapezoids or making a beeline. Others are just excellent words like clodhoppers and inglenook (a corner by a fireplace). Some are poetic reminders of beautiful things and others remind you of wonderful things like going home and picking the right lane for once in a traffic jam!
The book is hidden in the Lower Gladstone Link as part of Mr Po Chung’s Personal Development Collection, so take a look, hopefully you’ll find something there that will help to make you smile.
Emily Main, Radcliffe Camera
Classic Scrapes(James Acaster)
If you’re a fan of James Acaster’s comedy, his podcast (Off Menu with Ed Gamble), or his appearances on Taskmasterand Would I Lie to You?,I cannot recommend this book enough! And if you’re not, I am still confident that this book is funny and daft enough to elicit at least a smile. This book is a collection of Acaster’s most random, embarrassing and hilarious moments, from hiding from thugs in a bush whilst wearing a red dress for warmth, to disappointing his sky-diving instructor mid-flight. Featuring illustrations from Acaster himself, this book is the kind of daft, silly read I love when I’m feeling down. He’s a great storyteller and really brings some of these bizarre and unexpected moments to life, making me laugh out loud on more than one occasion.
Lucy Davies, Social Sciences Library
The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
If, like me, you aspire to ponder over books, manuscripts, pictures and anything remotely old and dusty, then this book is perfect for you! Set in an “elite New England college” it follows protagonist Richard whose downfall is “a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs” … hmm, sounds familiar – I think we have all been guilty of romanticising academia at some point, especially us librarians! We follow Richard as he enters the world of classics and becomes embroiled in a group of conceited, entitled and eccentric undergraduate classicists. The story that unfolds involves murder, Dionysian madness and a lot of brilliant description of New England culture, academia and what it means to read a humanities degree. I would definitely recommend it.
Ben Elliott, Pembroke College Library
The Liar’s Dictionary(Eley Williams)
As a habitual reader of weighty paperbacks, I often look at my large stack of unread books with dread when I’m in a busy (or rather, busier than usual) patch. The Liar’s Dictionarywas a book I’d had my eye on for some time when I spotted it shining at me from the window of an Oxfam bookstore. Pleasingly short at a little over 250 pages, this book is one to revitalise your love of language when you’re midway through an essay, you’ve written what you feel to be the worst paragraph in history (it’s almost undoubtedly not – and if it is you may want to try your hand at the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest) and you’re wondering quite what the point is. Whilst I can’t confirm this has the same effect on problem sheets, this is a wonderful, light-hearted book about words and – if you have the mental energy – also has some questions to ponder about the language we use and how it shapes the world around us.
Jess Ward, Law Faculty Library
The Hobbit(J. R. R. Tolkien)
The Hobbit, while technically a children’s book, brings all kinds of unbridled joy to the adult reader. Though this spellbinding story is hardly a secret, it is a comforting tale that I believe is well worth visiting or revisiting while walking the streets and university buildings that Tolkien once walked himself. For me, the most reassuring presence in the story is found in the hapless protagonist. Bilbo Baggins, a comfortable and contented Hobbit from The Hill, is dragged into a quest to help a band of dwarfs reclaim their ancestral home from the clutches of a dragon. His reluctance to leave his hobbit-hole and his uncertainty in himself and his abilities make his venture into the wonderful wilds that bit more satisfying. Bilbo is not a brave adventurer; in fact, he’s anxious, homesick, and often miserable… but he does his best – and along the way discovers qualities that he never knew he possessed.
This, I believe, is what delights me most about this book as an adult: the palpable sense of anxiety and the triumph over it. Well… that and a queer interpretation of the ending – but that is a topic for another day.
Sophie Lay, English Faculty Library
The Clocks (Agatha Christie)
Fromthefirst time I picked up an Agatha Christie novel as a teenager, I washooked. For me, they offer the ideal form of escapism: not only in the challenge and suspense of working out “who dunnit”, but in the way Christie brings herreader so wholly into the worlds she creates. In The Clocks, the centre of this world is the genteel, quiet street of Wilbraham Crescent, where an unknown man is found dead in the living room of number 19.There is something so artful in Christie’s drawing of place and character that the murder itself becomes almost secondary to the web of relationships and personalities – of people and spaces – which make up this book. Witness interviews are vignettes of 1960s family: the long-suffering Mrs Ramsay and her irrepressible sons, Mr McNaughton and his love of compost, Mrs Bland and her (very much) enjoyed frailty.And, of course, the presence of Hercule Poirot in any story is always a delight. The true testament toThe Clocksis that I have read it more times than I can count– which shouldn’t work for detective fiction! I highly recommend it as a quick read which combinessuspense, dry humour, spies, romance, perceptive social observation… and a murder, of course.
Heather Barr, St Edmund Hall Library
Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (Wendy Cope)
To be honest, more reading can be the last thing I want to do when I’m already feeling overwhelmed. Wendy Cope tends to feel like a safe option: short, sharp-witted poems that feel a bit like inside jokes.Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amishas some gems – everwondered howThe WasteLandwould read in limerick form?– andcan be found online via SOLO, but even that can feel like a lot if you’re in the absolute pits of it. Maybejust look up ‘The Orange.’ Go for a walk. Try to remember that things will probably be fine.
Josie Fairley Keast, Law Faculty Library
Persuasion (Jane Austen)
My comfort is often escapism; fantasy, historical fantasy, or historical fiction are my go-tos. However, the book to which I return at least every year is Persuasion. Like many, I first read Jane Austen’s novels when I was in my teens, but I still find more every time I reread. She is the finest writer for her use of language: the closer I read, the more amazing I find her work. Her language creates an intricate, layered and fascinating world of manners, class, and moral decisions — and it is funny too.
Other readers over the centuries have likewise turned to Austen in stressful or dark times. Winston Churchill read Austen during the Second World War and admired her work as an escape when he was ill with pneumonia: “What calm lives they had, those people!” he wrote, “No worries about the French Revolution, or the crashing struggle of the Napoleonic Wars. Only manners controlling natural passion as far as they could, together with cultured explanations of any mischances.”
Austen’s characters are funny and complex, and she is such a great observer of character. Humour is the best for cheering oneself up and, always, I love to laugh at a snob – they are the funniest characters to read in a novel of manners – and Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion is one of the finest, and silliest.
Austen went through dark times too and I believe it is wrong to say her work is unaffected by the wars that continued throughout her lifetime. Her worlds offer much-needed stability and order. She wondered if Pride and Prejudice was “too light and bright and sparkling”, but sometimes that is needed. Conversely, Austen completed Persuasion whilst she was dying. It was published posthumously and thus it is one of the least polished of her works; it is less “bright and sparkling” but a poignant and moving story of two people reuniting after years apart. It examines disappointment, heartbreak, and regret; but, most of all, it offers hope.
Prompted by Black History Month, we trainees have come together to share contributions from Black voices across our libraries and different disciplines. We invite you to look through our selection, consider them through the coming months, and continue celebrating Black history within your reading throughout the year.
Lizzie Dawson, All Souls College Library
Amo, Anton Wilhelm, & Abraham, W. E., Inaugural philosophical dissertation on The “[apatheia]” of the human mind, Accra: Department of Philosophy, University of Ghana. (Psych.18)
While researching All Souls Library’s collection, I found this translation presented by All Souls’ first African-born Prize Fellow, William Abraham (born 1934).
At first sight, this unbound dissertation is easy to overlook, tucked away on the shelves in the book stacks, but it too is an example of a first.
This document is a translation into English by Abraham of a dissertation by Anton Wilhelm Amo (c. 1700-c. 1750) – born in what is now Ghana, enslaved, and then gifted to the Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel – he became the first African person to earn a PhD in philosophy at a European university.
On the 16th of April, 1734, at the University of Wittenberg, Amo defended his dissertation, De Humanae Mentis Apatheia (On the impassivity of the human mind), in which he investigates the logical inconsistencies in René Descartes’ (1596-1650) res cogitans (mind) and res extensa (body) distinction and interaction. One of the 18th century’s most notable Black philosophers, Amo went on to teach philosophy at the Universities of Halle and Jena. You can read the original version of the dissertation with an English translation here.
An influential champion for the cause of abolition, Amo ultimately became embattled by racism and opposition to his beliefs. In 1747, he sailed back to present-day Ghana, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Lorde, Audre, Sister Outsider, London: Penguin, 2019. (DE / POL / 261 / LOR)
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) self-defined as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. She was also a School Librarian in New York during the 1960s. As a feminist and activist for the rights of Black and LGBTQ people, Lorde directly challenged white feminists and Black male intellectuals who neglected the experiences of Black and lesbian women.
Although the term ‘intersectionality’ was not coined until the late 1980s, Lorde’s work repeatedly stressed the danger of neglecting differences between women. Sister Outsider (1984) features essays and speeches including her landmark “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” In this essay, Lorde argues that although women have been taught to use these differences to separate themselves from other women, or else ignore them, it is only by acknowledging these differences that women’s oppression can be understood and overcome.
Lorde also comments that women are expected to educate men, and Black women are expected to educate white feminists. Reading and listening to the voices of Black women helps people of all races and genders understand how Black women’s experiences are impacted by race, gender, sexuality, class, and age, but relies upon the emotional labour of often marginalised writers. As Lorde writes, poetry is the most accessible and economical form of literature because it can be written ‘between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway and on scraps of surplus paper’. Her perspective challenged me to reconsider poetry, a form I had often associated with elite white male writers, a legacy perhaps of the kind of poets still studied most widely in schools.
Sister Outsider is part of our Diversity & Equality Collection, which showcases writing by and about people in underrepresented and marginalized groups. This collaborative project began last year, with members from across the College making book recommendations. The Collection includes various disciplines, from History and Politics, to Classics, Music, Languages and more. My predecessor as Graduate Trainee was involved with the beginning of the Collection, helping reclassify items in the existing Library catalogue and acquire new material. Now, when I process our latest acquisitions, I am involved in helping the Collection grow.
Babalola, Bolu. Love in Colour: Mythical Tales From Around the World, Retold. London: Headline, 2021. (S33 BAB:Lov (A))
“It’s important to be able to see Black people and people of colour in love – and in these hopeful contexts that aren’t mired with darkness and strife […] reality is that we’re just living our lives and we’re falling in love as Black people”
(Bolu Babalola, ‘Interview: Bolu Babalola on Love, Diversity, Redefining Romance’ (2020)
Joining the Black History Month 2021 campaign ‘Proud to Be’, Teddy Hall Library worked closely with student BAME Officer Jeevi Bali (2019, Jurisprudence) to showcase Black authors this October. Bolu Babalola’s debut book Love in Colour was one of the books bought new for a display specifically celebrating Black British authors.
In Bolu’s own words, Love in Colour is a“step towards decolonizing tropes of love”. Through brand-new tales and retellings of love stories from history, folklore and mythology, Bolu explores love as at once intrinsically universal, and complexly personal. We move with Bolu and her characters across time, continents and genres; as she brings together West African folklore, her own bad date experiences, Greek mythology, and her parents’ romance. Perhaps most moving in the collection is Bolu’s attention questions of sight. Who is seen, who wants to be seen, who is allowed to see, are questions which circle all love stories, and they are questions which Bolu beautifully considers and handles throughout her collection. For Bolu, Love in Colour is at its core about romance. To potential readers, she says: “If you like romance, you’ll like this book; it’s as simple as that”.
Himid, Lubaina, Lisa Panting, and Malin Ståhl. Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual. London: Koenig Books, 2018 (N6797.H5635 A4 LUB 2018)
‘Using her theatre background Himid construct ambiguous scenes, at times populated and other times not. We are not quite sure if what we are presented with is a safe place or a place of danger, if the protagonists are under threat or are in control of the situation. The vibrant colours and beautiful patterns, clothes and landscapes attract the viewer into situations that are not yet fixed. Himid’s protagonists are mostly black, and well dressed in clothes that point us to different moments and contexts; inviting us to consider our position and role in histories and what we subsequently do with them.’
(‘Introduction’, Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl, p 52)
Lubaina Himid is a Zanzibarian-born British painter, based in Preston. She has spent the course of her career exploring untold stories and Black history through reams of colour and carefully-composed figures. Indeed, her singular work championing Black creativity, institutionally obscured throughout history, lead to Himid winning the Turner Prize 2017. She was the first Black female artist to win the prize, and continues to celebrate other Black artists through her work in curation and activism.
Lubaina Himid: Workshop Manual is a collection of Himid’s work and writings, encompassing over four decades of canvas painting, cut-out figures, and installation art. Although varied, her works tie together in a kaleidoscope of colour and vibrancy. Readers can see British crockery overpainted with maps, faces, and west African patterns; selected pages of The Guardian show how images and words connect in the press to harm perceptions of Black identity; painted planks of wood which celebrate the importance of one’s own past, which she reflected on when travelling in South Korea. Each are incredibly meaningful and evocative. Unfailingly, her works prompts viewers to consider hidden narratives of Black history within British culture and beyond. This is the crux of Himid’s work, creating an internal response within others and reminding them of the true world they live in.
The Manual includes ‘The Lost Election Posters’, a series of paintings mimicking typical political campaigns. Himid intends – and successfully, too – to evoke questions of who is represented across powerful institutions. In her own words, the later part of the series ‘are essentially portraits of potential power’ (see photographed). These comprise some of my personal favourites in the book, and I would recommend anyone in the Sackler taking time to appreciate it.
‘I make this work, and have always made it, for other black women. These conversations are and have always been important. I want to show that our lives are complex yet ordinary, filled with the same weight of what has been done to us but at the same time normal and boring too’ (‘A Conversation between Lubaina Himid, Lisa Panting and Malin Ståhl, Hollybush Gardens’, p 293-299)
You can read more about Lubaina Himid here: https://lubainahimid.uk/
Marechera, Dambudzo. The House of Hunger. Harlow: Heinemann,2009. (LIT/MAR)
‘My whole life has been an attempt to make myself the skeleton in my own cupboard. I have been an outsider in my own biography, in my country’s history, in the world’s terrifying possibilities.’
Novelist, short story writer, and poet, Dambudzo Marechera (1952-1987) was born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. A student at New College, Oxford, from 1974, he was eventually sent down after a turbulent two years and repeated clashes with staff and students. Shortly afterwards, in 1978, his first book, The House of Hunger, was published, winning the 1979 Guardian Fiction Prize. Two more of Marechera’s books were published in his lifetime,Black Sunlight(1980), Mindblast(1984), with three others, including a collection of poetry, published posthumously.
The House of Hunger, a collection of short stories, consists of nine interlinked stories concerning Marechera’s childhood and youth in a Rhodesian slum, with the rest of the stories focusing on his time in Oxford. Marechera leaves his readers in no doubt of the sense of otherness and alienation which he felt while he was in Oxford: the story, ‘Black Skin What Mask’, begins with the statement ‘my skin sticks out a mile in all the crowds here’. His writing has been described as abrasive and he himself called his experience of writing in English, rather than his first language Shona, as a matter of ‘discarding grammar, throwing syntax out, subverting images from within, beating the drum and cymbals of rhythm, developing torture chambers of irony and sarcasm, gas ovens of limitless black resonance.’
‘“I got my things and left” is the coolest opening line in African fiction. Marechera is nothing like any African writer before him’ (Helon Habila)
All quotations taken from The House of Hunger (see reference).
Boakye, Jeffrey. Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored. London: Dialogue Books, 2019. (HT1581.BOA 2019)
“Call me Black and you’ll remind me that, racially, I’m everything I’m not, which makes me everything I am. Call me Black and I won’t even flinch because I’m so used to calling myself Black that it’s become the invisible lens. A perspective that has hardened into an objective truth. Call me Black and I’ll welcome the definition, despite the fact that it denigrates just as much as it defines. Call me Black and I’ll flinch. Call me Black and I won’t even flinch.”
Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye is an exploration of Black British culture through the descriptors used by and for Black people in the UK. Boakye examines how words and labels can reinforce stereotypes or alternatively create a sense of community. He explores 21st Century Black British identity through an analysis of pop culture and autobiographical anecdotes. The book begins with Boakye recalling how he’s “been Black since about 1988”, the first time that he was made aware of the “otherness” of his skin colour by his classmates in primary school. The theme of Black identity in the UK being perceived as an otherness runs deep throughout the book, as Boakye explores how the Black British community has been represented, oppressed, celebrated and discriminated against.
Touching on everything from the Grime scene to global Black history and the experiences of the Windrush generation, Boakye provides an accessible and entertaining yet raw and insightful view of what it means to be Black in Britain today. I would recommend it to anyone looking to question what purpose labels serve, and in what ways they can be helpful and in what ways they isolate.
Marson, U. & Donnell, A., 2011. Selected poems, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press. (PR9265.9.M37 A6 MAR 2011)
Una Marson was born in 1905 in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. By the time she first left Jamaica, she had published two poetry collections, founded the feminist periodical Cosmopolitan, and wrote her first play and had it staged. She bought her first ticket to London in 1932, but moved back and forth between Jamaica and London multiple times throughout her life. Outside of poetry, her career was busy and varied, with highlights including:
Author and Director of the first Black production on the West End with her play At What Price.
Editor of and Contributor to The Keys, the journal of the League of Coloured Peoples (of which she was a prominent member)
Head of the West Indies Service for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Founder of the BBC’s ‘Caribbean Voices’.
Speaker at the conference of the British Commonwealth League
Speaker at the conference of the International Alliance for Women’s Suffrage and Equal Citizenship
Secretary to Haile Selassie (Emperor of Ethiopia) during his exile to London
In the words of Alison Donnell, editor of this collection, Marson is not often enough noted as the “women poet whose works pioneered the articulation of gender and racial oppression, brought Jamaican vernacular voices alongside a Wordsworthian passion for nature, and ventured to give subjectivity to powerless and marginalised subjects.” (p.11) This collection pulls together a broad selection of her work (published and unpublished) to try to present a complete picture of Marson’s poetics – as contrasting as it is enlightening.
In total, Marson published four poetry collections. Her work as a poet is as varied as her life, with a wide range of influences from European forms and models of her earlier work to the use of blues forms and dialect in her later work. Thematically speaking, her poetry often focused on Black representation, gender politics, religion, immigration, nature, love, Jamaica, and war. Despite the heavy topics, she often dwells on beauty, hope, and the uplifting. See this extract, for example, from the deceptively titled ‘Black Burden’ (pp.146-147):
Black girl – what a burden –
But your shoulders
Black girl – what a burden –
But your courage is strong –
Black girl your burden
Will fall from your shoulders
Una Marson: Selected Poems is now available to loan from the English Faculty Library, newly acquired this month.
Marson, U. & Donnell, A., 2011. Selected poems, Leeds: Peepal Tree Press.
Snaith, A. (2014) “Una Marson: ‘Little Brown Girl’ in a ‘White, White City,’” in Modernist Voyages: Colonial Women Writers in London, 1890–1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 152–174. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139018852