Interview with a former trainee (part 3)

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).


Inside the main reading room, with views of the study space, shelves and balconies
St Hilda’s College Library, where Grace was a trainee in 2013/14

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?

A view down a row of shelves in the social science library
The Social Science Library, where Lauren was a trainee in 2018/19


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.


Bodleian Old Library building
The Old Bodleian Library, where Kate would have carried out work as a trainee in 2003/04

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:

Grace Brown, the Kathleen Major Library, St Hilda’s College


Liam Livesley, St Hilda’s College Library

St Hilda’s is, I think, something of a special college. It was the last in Oxford to start admitting men, becoming co-educational in 2008. It is (I’m told) the only college east of the river Cherwell.  Our buildings are dotted around several acres of open gardens, rather than bound up in quadrangles. And, our 60,000+ holdings aren’t on SOLO (the university-wide catalogue) but can be perused instead (by Oxford users) through our own Heritage catalogue.

And now it’s where I work! I’m Liam, and I’m the graduate trainee at the Kathleen Major Library at St Hilda’s this year. I finished an MA in political theory at the University of Sheffield over the summer, and before that I read philosophy at Jesus College, Cambridge, so I’m currently learning to replace one set of jargon (e.g. court, supervision, bedder) with another (quad, tutorial, scout).

St Hilda’s main reading room, which opened in 1935 and is a treat if you’re a fan of oak panelling. [All photos taken (inexpertly) by the author.].

It’s an interesting time for the Hilda’s library at the moment, as we’re currently making the transition to self-service issue and return. A fair chunk of my time in the couple of weeks that I’ve been here has been spent electronically tagging books and troubleshooting the new equipment (should that be glowing/beeping and, if not, how do we stop it glowing/beeping?). Today’s new challenge is to work out how to add items like bookstands and keys to the system, and, in the latter case, where to source the large pieces of wood we think we might want to attach to them.  As you might expect, I’ve also spent a lot of time staffing our issue desk and processing and shelving books, which has been great for getting to know our readers and our catalogue.

An ongoing project of mine is to create more shelf space to clear the backlog of new books that currently have no home to go to. Our medicine and biology collections, for example, are housed in rolling stacks in our basement and are currently extremely congested (no medical pun intended). Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just moving stock around – instead, I’m having to virtually dismantle and rebuild our shelving, with the help of the delightfully-named shelf clips called “tonks”. I’m hoping to get this all finished as soon as possible as I imagine the amount of time I can spend lurking in the stacks will decrease dramatically once our undergrads return. I’m also hoping to start a project this term on surveying our damaged books and assessing whether they can be repaired in-house, or whether they should be sent off for more serious repairs or replaced.

L – Some of our rolling stacks in the Cinderford Trust Room. R – A bushel of tonks.

St Hilda’s is an extremely peaceful place to work. Only members of the College can regularly use the library (although we do get visitors, particularly to the Archives), and, tucked away down Cowley Place as we are, not many tourists find us. The Cherwell wends its way through the grounds, disturbed only by the ducks and the assorted punters of varying aptitude. We’re a very small library team, with only the Librarian, the Archivist, and myself at present as we await the arrival of our new Assistant Librarian. This is fantastic, not just because it means I know everyone I work with very well, but because I get to do a bit of everything and gain experience very quickly across the board.

The Cherwell saunters past the Milham Ford building.

We have a training session this afternoon at the Bodleian offices out at Osney Mead, so I’d better make the most of the rest of the morning and get back down to the stacks!

Emma Quinlan – Kathleen Major Library, St. Hilda’s College

Hello all! I’m Emma and I am the new(ish!) Graduate Library Trainee at the Kathleen Major Library, better known as the St. Hilda’s College Library. I say newish as I started the post in April as the wonderful past trainee (Grace Brown) secured a full time job at the Bodleian through her second year at St. Hilda’s.

St. Hilda’s Main Reading Room

So a little bit about me … I graduated in 2013 with a 1st class honours degree in Observational Astronomy from the University of Glamorgan. I specialised in solar system volcanology over my two dissertations; volcanism in the inner solar system and cryovolcanism in the outer solar system. I know it sounds star trekkie but no, there was no mention of Spock in my work! I spent most of my school life in the library – doing work, swotting up and most importantly reading Star Wars novels (I must have been the only person to do so as the librarian was shocked that I would request more books from the series …). I have fond memories of finding exciting novels to read as well as, you guessed it, finding lots of stuff on volcanoes and astronomy! A home from home, I learned that life could be exciting, knowledgeable and dare I say it, dangerous, without leaving the comfort of my chair.

My library experience (apart from being in one for the majority of my educational life) has been based on public libraries. I worked as a relief library assistant after graduating for a year and a bit before getting the post at St. Hilda’s. I fell in love with library work and interacting with the public and then everything slotted into place – librarians are awesome! I want to be awesome … I will become a librarian!
So far St. Hilda’s has been a joy. Starting at the beginning of Trinity term with lots of anxious students got me into the swing of things quite quickly. I have had the long summer to complete some small projects (yay!) and to look forward to finally meeting my fellow trainees (double yay!).

I can’t wait to get the trainee year properly underway, getting to know Hilda’s and all you trainees further and looking forward to all there is to experience in the Oxford library system.

Grace Brown, the Kathleen Major Library, St Hilda’s College

The library at its opening in 1935 (from college website)
The library at its opening in 1935 (from college website)

Hello, I’m Grace and I’m the Graduate Trainee at St Hilda’s College Library (also known as the Kathleen Major library, after a former Librarian and Principal of the college). I graduated from Cambridge this year, where I studied English at Selwyn College, so moving to Oxford didn’t feel like too much of a change. Abundance of gowns, beautiful architecture, weird terminology – yup, feels normal. I have very limited library experience; I spent a week working at the English Faculty Library in Cambridge, and then a month helping with the project of RFID-tagging all the books in my college library. After 6 hours per day of sticking tags into books, shelving seems like a magical adventure…

St Hilda’s has quite a large library for a newer, less grand college. This is because it was a women-only college until recently, and since once upon a time women were not allowed to use the Bodleian, female colleges had to build their own strong collections (as Hannah also mentioned in her post). There are a few quirks of Hilda’s library: firstly, we’re not on SOLO, as we have our own system called Heritage (note my absence from SOLO training sessions, fellow trainees). Additionally, we tend to do things rather traditionally: I am the main security system, checking bags and Bod cards, and I also use a typewriter for spine labels.

There is one other notable fact about St Hilda’s Library which I keep forgetting is the main reason people have heard of it. I was reminded when a conference guest came in today. “I have come to see the famous St Hilda’s library!”, he proclaimed. I was confused – it’s a nice library, but famous? “Yes, where the students did the video!” Oh. Welcome to the library that made national news with that Harlem Shake fiasco…

I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead – learning lots, riding out the chaos that will ensue when the undergrads turn up, avoiding being crushed by the rolling stacks, getting to know my fellow trainees better, and generally enjoying life within the great web of Oxford libraries.

Library Trainee Day in the Life – Day 10

Well, better late than never, here is a glimpse of life at St.Hilda’s.

Today the Librarian has taken the 0830 start, so the opening procedures have been undertaken by the time I arrive. In general this involves opening the front door, unlocking any internal doors, closing the Lawyer’s entrance which gives them access outside opening hours, logging-on the OPACs, switching on the printers and photocopier and clearing any mess/items left on desks overnight.

0900 – Check returned books through the library management system. Student invigilators who man the desk after 5pm can accept returns but cannot remove the records from reader accounts.

Separate any books that have been recalled by readers, reserve them and contact them to let them know that they are ready for collection.

0930 – Chat about changes being made to the way we deal with book requests from Graduate students. There is a separate fund for Graduate taught courses and on feedback from the MCR at Library Committee we are attempting to improve and streamline this process.

1000 – Enquire about a book that was returned to us in error. Contact student and set it aside for collection.

Check book repairs that I left to dry overnight. One is satisfactory and ready to find its way home. The other hasn’t quite taken so I try again.

1030 – Student requests: There are a couple of book purchase requests in our recommendation book and e-mail. I check that we don’t already have the books as some students have not checked the catalogue fully before requesting. Check for availability and prices before sending off the request to the subject tutors for approval. Update the spreadsheet where we keep track of what has/hasn’t been approved.

1130 – Arrange the shelving trolleys in shelfmark order, ready for shelving later on.

1200 – Desk duty: My desk is the issue desk so when I am not in the reading rooms I will be issuing/returning books, signing out reserve shelf items, bookstands, giving paper for the printer/photocopier.

Accession some journals: Fill in the index card, add details to accessions spreadsheet, write accession number and shelfmark, stamp with St. Hilda’s logo.

Prepare book to send back to another library.

Receive approval from subject tutor to purchase book. Ring Blackwell’s who don’t have it in stock and as we try to make student requests a priority this book will be ordered from Amazon as it would be quicker than having Blackwell’s order it in from the publisher. Pass on details to the Librarian to order with the credit card.

1300- Lunch: I receive some gentle ribbing about how “orange” my lunch is – roast potatoes, chicken in some unknown sauce, beans and tomato ketchup for luck.

1400-Attempt to check-in a delivery from our suppliers but after much rooting no invoice is to be found. Detective work suggests another box will shortly be arriving.

Shelving journals: Place current subscriptions in their respective Science or Arts/Humanities racks. Shelve the previous issues with the rest of the back issues in the rolling stacks in the basement.

Take this time to give a quick patrol of the library for noise, food and drink, maintenance issues, check the printer cartridge levels and for students leaving unattended items and using up desks. I find a folder with important personal documents, (including a passport!) in a pile of papers next to the recycling bin. Save these and contact the student, who picks them up within 5 minutes. Such is the immediacy of a college library, I will sometimes not even have placed a book on the recall shelf 5 yards away from my chair before the reserver is at the desk to pick it up.

1430 – The subject tutors have all replied and it’s time to order some books. Blackwell’s will send one over the next morning and another will be ordered in and with us early next week. The tutors have asked for extra copies so I order these from our web-based supplier. It takes longer but they come pre-processed.

I create the orders on our library management system and create minimal catalogue records, which will show that these books have been ordered. The Assistant Librarian will make complete catalogue record when they arrive.

1530 – Shelving: As mentioned, no trainee goes without the daily duty. My faithful trolley and I trundle off to put some books to bed.

1615 – Wrapping up: Remove items from the returns trolley so as not to mix them with those to be returned overnight.

Redo some spine labels that have faded or fallen off.

Write this blog post.

1700 – Home time.



Niall Sheekey, St. Hilda`s College Library


Hello all! I`m Niall, the Graduate Trainee for St. Hilda`s College Library. I am a History graduate with a BA and MSc from University College Dublin and the University of Edinburgh respectively.

I have arrived in Oxford having recently worked in the University of Birmingham library and am delighted by the upgrade in architecture. Walking through the Bodleian on my way to work each morning is a wonderful bonus indeed.

I am looking forward to working this year as part of a small team in a busy library and getting to grips with the unique features of the Oxford collegiate system. This week past we had quite a number of alumni visiting as part of Gaudy weekend, some of whom regaled me with their memories of descending the back stairs from their lodgings in the dead of night to the permanently accessible library. These days only the Law students have 24 hour access in term time, student dedication is clearly on the wane in Oxford. Mercifully my first three weeks have been relatively quiet, although having spent a day and a half creating reader records for all incoming undergraduates and postgraduates I am preparing myself for the inevitable influx come 1st week.

So far I have mainly been processing new books (including the creation of spine labels with our old forgotten friend, the typewriter), accessioning journals, shelving, withdrawing items and undertaking stock moves to deal with a growing collection and the ever-present bane of libraries, lack of space. I have begun ordering books from suppliers on behalf of the subject tutors and will be responsible for this and handling student requests to purchase books during the year. As one of only three members of staff I am sure I will have a very busy year and gain a good understanding of the many different aspects of running a college library.

The library itself is a situated in the very pleasant college grounds on the banks of the Cherwell, complete with its own punts which I hope to master in the coming months. I am greatly looking forward to this year`s training with you all.

Liz Kennedy, St Hilda’s College Library

Hello everyone,

I’m Liz and I’m the trainee at St Hilda’s College Library. I’m originally from Norfolk, and I graduated this summer from Warwick University with a degree in Comparative American Studies. I worked in a public library as a Saturday assistant during my A levels, so am familiar with some elements of working in a library, but working at St Hilda’s is, as you might expect, a rather different experience.

Fortunately, it is an experience I am very much enjoying. Although the library has been relatively quiet, I‘ve had plenty to do – ordering books, accessioning periodicals, helping readers and of course shelving – and I have been assured that next week, when the undergraduate students arrive, I will be even busier. I’m hoping that as the year goes on I will be able to get involved in all aspects of running the library, learn a great deal, and that my year as a trainee will prove to be an excellent beginning to a career in librarianship.