Hello, I’m Nadia, and I’m this year’s St. John’s College trainee. I graduated in July with an English Literature degree from the University of Warwick, and have been working at St. John’s since the start of August. I’ve really enjoyed my first few months as a Library trainee, although I can’t quite believe how quickly the past few months have flown by. During my undergrad degree, I worked and volunteered at my university library in a range of capacities, and I also have some (very limited) experience of working in a public library. These roles nurtured my love of books and libraries, something which has continued to grow during my trainee year so far.
Working in a college is a truly unique setting, and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. The start of my trainee year coincided with St. John’s move into a brand new Library and Study Centre. While this definitely felt like being thrown in at the deep end, it meant that I quickly familiarised myself with the new Library and how it works, as my first jobs included creating new stack signs and a new Library guide (complete with reading room maps). Since the start of term, I’ve been getting more comfortable with usual library jobs – staffing the main desk, fully processing new books and donations, creating book displays, giving tours of the new building, supervising special collections readers, and so on. I like having mini projects to do alongside the daily running of the Library – my main one this week is writing a new special collections blog post on St. John’s current exhibition.
I’ve also been attending the Bodleian training sessions, getting to know the other trainees, and attending the various (library and non-library related) events that are always going on in Oxford. Moving through the rest of the year, I’m excited to learn as much as possible, and get as much out of my year as I can.
A day in the life of a graduate trainee librarian, St John’s College.
Hello – my name is Rhiannon and I’m the graduate trainee at St John’s College Library. I’ve recently graduated from the University of York where I did my undergraduate degree in English literature.
Our readers at St John’s are all members of the College, from undergraduates to Fellows, and we provide core texts on a wide range of subjects. We also have Special Collections, including manuscripts and early printed books. As part of a small team, my work is very varied, with many opportunities for responsibility and personal projects.
9 am: social media. I start the day by updating the Library’s Facebook page. Today I have a new Special Collections blog post to advertise, sharing our texts from the Reformation. (I almost immediately get a text from my mum telling me I’ve made a spelling error in the blog.)
9:30 – 11 am: processing books. This is the technical services side of the job. I classify texts and create holdings records for new stock, making it available to our readers. This includes brand new books, and older texts which might be donations or unrecorded items from the Library stores.
11 am – 12:30 pm: reader services. A visiting academic has come to look at an early printed book, so I work in the beautiful Old Library to supervise his study and make sure he gets the information he needs. The Old Library houses our Special Collections; as well as being a space to preserve and display wonderful old texts, it is very much a working library. Visitors often come from far and wide to consult unique items. While I supervise, I get on with some writing, including a Halloween themed blog post for the Special Collection blog.
12:30pm – 1:30 pm: lunchtime! A significant perk of working in a College Library is free lunch every day in the Hall. Today is a hearty pasta bake.
1:30pm – 3:30pm: donations. The Deputy Librarian and I sort through a new batch of donated books, choosing which books would be useful for our Library, which I then process. Donations provide some interesting and unusual texts; in this case, there is a wide array of theological books. Excitingly, one contains a 1940s bus ticket!
3:30pm – 4pm: RFID labels. Bringing the library up to date, one of our projects this year is to put RFID labels in all borrowable books. This will prepare them for use at self-issue machines in the new library building, due to open in a few months.
4pm – 5pm: shelving. Some good old-fashioned shelving! The library has two rooms of open shelves: the Paddy Room on the ground floor, mainly for sciences, and the Laudian Library on the first floor, mainly for humanities.
5pm: closing up. During the Vacation we close at 5pm, so I switch off all the lights and make sure there are no readers hidden away who have lost track of time.
Throughout the day, readers and visitors come in with queries and items to return. Most of my work is done at the Issue Desk so I’m always on hand to greet and assist readers.
Hello, I’m Connie, and I’m the trainee for 2016-17 at St John’s College Library.
I’ve been working at St John’s since August. Back then, the library was closed to students for the summer vacation and I became introduced to the library through the annual stock check. This meant I very quickly familiarised myself with the layout of the library which was particularly helpful as one of my first projects was to create a guide to the library for new students, and once term started, I needed to be able to help users with their enquiries.
The entrance to the Laudian Library
In the run-up to term, the library received reading lists from various departments and some large donations of books from retiring fellows. One of my jobs was to check titles against SOLO and then process the new books, from classification (using the college’s unique, home-grown system) through to shelving via holdings, bookplates, stamps, stickers and plastic covers.
At St John’s I’ve also had the opportunity to work with the library’s special collections, such as preparing materials for exhibitions, writing about specific items for the Special Collections blog, and assisting the librarian in photographing some of the library’s most precious items for the website. The Special Collections at St John’s include
A plate showing lions in MS61, York Bestiary (13th century)
early printed books …
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton printing (c. 1483)
and notable individuals’ papers…
A letter from Jane Austen to her niece, Anna. (1814)
It is currently a time of change in the library as an extension is under construction; the new Study Centre is set to open in the next academic year. Lots of aspects of the library are subject to change before the construction is finished and the related conversations surrounding the practicalities of the move are particularly interesting for someone new to the world of libraries.
I came into the traineeship almost immediately after graduating from Durham University where I studied English Literature. This was a quick turnaround from full-time study to full-time work, and my previous experience of working in a library was solely through volunteering opportunities: regularly volunteering at the Bill Bryson university library at Durham, and undertaking a brief spell of work experience at Leeds College of Music’s library.
As for the rest of the year, I’m looking forward to further training and visits to libraries with the other Oxford trainees as well as getting to know more about the collections here at St John’s.
Curating a Special Collections exhibition on the theme of war
As I am unable to attend at the trainee showcase, I’ve written an account of my trainee project at St John’s Library instead, covering the process of organising a themed exhibition of rare books and manuscripts.
One of the reasons I applied for the traineeship at St John’s College Library was due to its fascinating range of extensive Special Collections, and the chance to explore and work with these as part of my day-to-day tasks. Items housed in the library date back to the 9th century and include some 400 manuscripts, 20,000 early printed books and significant collections of modern literary papers. In order to give College members the chance to learn more about these, we organise exhibitions displaying a number of items of interest twice a year. Each exhibition is based around a particular theme, with recent topics including a Classical A to Z and the Seven Deadly Sins.
Knowing that I would be setting up my exhibition in April, I decided to get started as early as possible and began thinking of possible themes (which gave me a great excuse to explore the collections themselves!) Three topics stood out as possibilities; witchcraft, alchemy and war. However, it turned out that we didn’t have enough variety of material to justify a witchcraft exhibition. Left with two options, I eventually decided on the theme of war – despite it not being an area I know much about – as I thought it tied in well with the marking of the centenary of WWI this year. War has become a prevalent theme in the media, with an increased topical and cultural presence.
I then had a closer look at the items I could display – choosing war as a topic made it easy to ensure that the exhibition could cover all our collections, from a 13th century Egyptian manuscript, to 17th century early printed books, to the modern literary papers of Robert Graves and Spike Milligan. The Librarian and Deputy Librarian, having a wider knowledge of the library’s collections, both suggested items to include, and I then decided on the final order. I intended this to be fully chronological, but logistical considerations (making sure all the items would actually fit in the exhibition cases without being damaged!) made this difficult. The first three cases are therefore based around different themes, before the exhibition moves on chronologically to cover the 16th to the 20th century. It sounds slightly confusing but I think it works! I learned that one of the most important things was trying to include a balance of text and image in each section in order to maintain the viewer’s interest.
The information I give in my captions for the exhibition obviously had to be meticulously researched, before being checked by the Librarian. Part of this research involved consulting a 19th century book in the Taylor Institution Library, which was a lovely place to work in and made me feel very studious!
After the exhibition was finally set up, I looked into how best to promote it. As well as using channels already in existence, such as posters, the library website and Facebook page, I took the opportunity to increase the library’s social media presence by posting on the St John’s College Twitter account and setting up a Special Collections blog for the library, (http://stjohnscollegelibrary.wordpress.com), with the first post focusing on the content of the exhibition. The College President’s Executive Assistant also included details about it in the monthly College events flyer. This part of the process showed me another important side to Special Collections work; the fact that good communication skills, both online and face-to-face, are essential in an sector which relies on gaining funding and developing innovative ways to engage readers to ensure its relevance in an increasingly digitally-focused society.
The range of tasks involved in completing this project reflects the opportunities the trainee scheme as a whole has given me – I’ve really enjoyed the combination of reader services and Special Collections work that being part of a College library team entails. The other projects I have been involved epitomise this variety; from sorting through 19th century letters and cataloguing Spike Milligan’s literary papers, to setting up general interest book displays and providing free squash and biscuits to students during exam time!
Overall, I feel that all of these projects and tasks, along with the training sessions provided by the Bodleian scheme, have given me excellent practical knowledge and experience of academic libraries, something I look forward to exploring in an academic context during my MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield.
9am: Arrive and settle in
This involves checking and responding to emails, both from readers and external researchers, and confirming what’s in the diary for the day. We have a team of graduate invigilators who cover the early morning, evening and weekend shifts in the library, so if they’ve noted any issues or enquiries we’ll follow these up.
I am responsible for shelving the Arts and Humanities books in the upstairs Laudian Library. While I’m doing this I also ensure that the reading room is tidy for today’s readers.
10.15am: Book Processing
Part of my role is to process new books and journals acquired by the library. For books, this involves giving each item a barcode and shelfmark, before labelling, stamping and covering it. We have our own in-house classification system, and it’s interesting working out where each book should be placed in order to ensure easy accessibility for readers.
11am: Coffee Break
11.15am: Other Projects
I supervise a manuscript reader in the Old Library and use the time to catch up on other general tasks, such as updating the Library Facebook page and creating posters and captions for our new books display, which we change on a termly basis.
12pm: Issue Desk
I cover the issue desk while other members of staff are at lunch, issuing and returning books and dealing with reader enquiries.
I get a free lunch every day, which is a definite advantage of working in one of the Colleges!
2pm: Cataloguing of Spike Milligan Papers
The College has a collection of papers originally belonging to Spike Milligan, which includes original manuscripts and drawings for many of his literary works. I’m cataloguing these to archival standards (this process is somewhat different to library cataloguing so has taken a bit of getting used to!) by describing each individual item in detail and uploading this information to the Archives Hub website. I also add tags and access points (using mainly Library of Congress subject headings) to aid any readers who might be interested in consulting this material.
3.30pm: Law Library
The Law Library is a separate 24 hour study space on the other side of the college, so once a day I head over there to shelve new acquisitions of books and journals and have a general tidy up.
4pm: Tea Break
4.15pm: Exhibition Preparation
For my trainee project I’m working on an exhibition, using the Library’s Special Collections to explore war throughout history. We put on two exhibitions a year in order to give College members a chance to view some of the rare books and manuscripts they wouldn’t generally have access to. My main tasks are to research the items I plan to display and write captions for them, and to design a poster and a handlist to accompany the exhibition. (Note: I wrote this post a while back but forgot to upload it until today, so the exhibition is now up and running!)
This week, we had a Monday morning treat in the form of our first trainee-led library tour. Joanne welcomed us into St John’s with a bit of historical background, describing the college’s foundation by a wealthy Merchant Taylor and its staunch loyalty to the Royalist cause during the Civil Wars. In fact, finding images of King Charles I in and around the library took on a distinctly Where’s Wally feel after a while!
We were welcomed in and asked to stow our bags safely behind the desk: in contrast to most of the reading rooms we saw on the Bod tour, the librarians are the main form of book detectors here. Then it was onwards into the Paddy Room, a light and spacious area with open shelves holding the library’s science, social sciences and DVD collections.
Upstairs provided a striking change of scene with the Old Library, complete with a laser security system (which Joanne managed to disable for us with her secret library ninja ways). One of the other librarians, Stewart Tiley, then treated us to a hands-on display of some of the manuscripts and early printed books. These works were passed around very gingerly! As we walked through we took in some of the display on the Seven Deadly Sins organised by Joanne’s predecessor; who knew Jane Austen would be one of the guilty party?
We then passed into the Laudian Library, named after Charles I’s archbishop. As well as holding modern humanities works and providing an atmospheric workspace for readers, this room housed yet more special collections.
We saw a botched piece of royal propaganda, a tiny New Testament written in indecipherable shorthand and a Renaissance horoscope. Some of the more bizarre curios included a macabre walking stick used by Laud right up until his execution, while Stewart suggested the reinstatement of the skeletons which used to flank the door. And to keep up the Charles I quota, there was an image of the king composed of a psalm in miniscule handwriting.
Finally, we got to take a peek into the archives, which offered a mix of the modern and the unique. St John’s is very lucky to hold collections of papers previously belonging to Robert Graves and Spike Milligan. What better way to finish a visit by looking at the Milligan’s illustration of Fluffybum the cat?