As Oxford University’s library of modern languages and literature, the Taylor Institution has around 750,000 items in its care. These collections represent and explore a wide range of research interests, from Europe to the Caribbean, Celtic nations to Africa, and beyond. In doing so, the collections also recognise the problematic, colonial role Europe has played in Black history around the world. To celebrate Black History Month 2023 at the Taylor, and to demonstrate the diverse yet complex nature of our subject specialisms, I was given the opportunity to put together two book displays, one in the Teaching Collection and the other in the Research Collection, to celebrate this BHM’s theme: Saluting our Sisters. Here, I want to describe the display to you, as well as explain some of the reasoning behind picking out the books that I did!
Deciding where to start when choosing books for the display was difficult, to say the least – there were so many books that deserve the spotlight! Eventually, I settled on attempting to provide a taste of the wide range of resources we provide at the Taylor, while sticking to the theme as closely as possible. I also wanted to demonstrate the ever-evolving nature of the scholarship available. As a result, I decided to start with texts on Black feminism to give readers the chance to understand the theoretical background of the other materials on display. For the most part, these texts can be found in the gender studies section of the Main Reading Room and include the likes of Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (2009) and Jennifer C. Nash’s Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality (2019). These texts focus on theories of intersectionality and the lived realities of Black women. Collins explores the complexities of Black women’s experiences in dealing with hierarchies of oppression and power. Meanwhile, Nash’s more recent work provides a new perspective by challenging the direction that Black feminist theory is currently headed within the field of women’s studies. By suggesting these two texts, I hoped to provide a basis from which to understand Black feminist theory, as well as an indication of where the field is headed.
In terms of history, some of the texts also explore the contributions that Black women made in establishing civil rights, as well as national independence from colonial oppression. Two that stood out to me the most included Tiffany N. Florvil’s Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German women and the making of a transnational movement (2020) and Natalya Vince’s Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory and Gender in Algeria, 1954-2012 (2015). Florvil focuses on sexuality and race to demonstrate the impact that Black German women played in forming the cultural, intellectual and social movement of Black German liberation in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Vince bases her research on women’s oral testimonies of the Algerian fight against French colonialism from 1954 to 2012. In doing so, she provides insight into how women perceived their nation post-independence and how this impacted wider national memory. Both are completely different in their methodological undertakings but are equally fascinating areas of twentieth century history!
Lastly, as I pulled the displays together, picking books and narrowing down my choices, I found that themes of resistance and identity were very strong in almost all of the texts. To provide background for this, I felt it was also necessary to display Franz Fanon’s seminal work on anti-colonialist theory, The Wretched of the Earth (2004 ), as well as the more recent work on postcolonial writings such as postcolonial writings such as American Creoles. Ultimately, this tied into my aim with the display: to recognise where today’s scholarship in Black history and literature stems from, and where it is going now.
Check out our X (Twitter) page to find out what else we Trainees have been doing to celebrate Black History Month!
Collins, Patricia Hill Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd edition, (London: Routledge, 2009)
Hello! My name is Clara, and I am the current trainee at the Taylor Institution Library, or the ‘Taylorian,’ Oxford University’s library of modern languages and literature other than English. As a trainee in Section 3 of the Bodleian, I am also working at the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library and the Nizami Ganjavi Library, the latter of which specialises in Asian and Middle Eastern studies. Despite this, the Taylor is where my traineeship is mostly based. Here, we have around 750,000 books both on and off site that range from languages such as French, Slavonic and Greek, to subjects such as Gender studies, Celtic studies and linguistics. I do have a little knowledge of French, having studied the language during my first undergraduate year of English Literature and History at the University of Glasgow. However, my background lies mostly in Gender History, which I studied as a Masters at Glasgow University as well. After graduating, I went on to try my hand in the heritage and tourism industry at Stirling Castle before being offered this exciting opportunity to work in librarianship at the Bodleian.
Like every library at Oxford University, the Taylor is unique in its own way; comprised of two buildings, one built in the 1840s and the other during the 1930s, it offers different, yet equally welcoming, environments for staff and readers. The 1930s side of the building mainly houses our Teaching and DVD Collections, the former of which is tailored (no pun intended!) for undergraduate study and reading lists. This is also where the Issue Desk is situated. The older half of the library is where the Enquiry Desk can be found, as well as our Research Collection and the library’s most popular place to study – the Main Reading Room. With chandeliers, a fireplace and a spiral staircase leading to the gallery, I too would find it a great place to read and find inspiration for an essay! The basement is where the Slavonic section is kept, as well as the Celtic studies material and more.
This last month has flown by, but I have learnt so much and met so many lovely (and patient!) colleagues and fellow trainees. So far, my time has comprised of learning how to use Alma, getting to grips with the varying shelving systems of the Taylor, setting up book displays and learning how to help readers effectively – I’m really excited to see what else this year will bring! I am especially looking forward to the trainee trip to the Collections Storage Facility in Swindon, as well as contributing to this blog. For now, the hope is to develop my career in academic librarianship, perhaps as a subject librarian or in special collections, but I will just have to wait and see what this year brings, and what inspires me the most in this role!
Hi, I’m Lorena, this year’s Taylor Institution Library trainee. The Taylor Institution is part of the Bodleian Libraries, and caters to students and researchers of modern European languages, linguistics, and film studies—plus hosts significant collections on gender, and bibliography, palaeography and book production.
Built in the 1860s and expanded in the 1930s, the Taylor Institution is an attractive neoclassical building in the centre of Oxford. It attracts not only Modern Languages scholars, but also people looking for a well-lit, comfortable place to work. Working at the Taylorian over the past few weeks has been a hugely interesting experience as I have got used to the building, its collections, and its readers.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of working at the Taylorian has been the variety of languages and literatures available within its walls. Our readers and our staff generally have some familiarity with one or more languages in addition to English, and it´s common to hear conversations in Russian, German, French, or Spanish. As a person interested in language and literature, it´s always interesting to see what readers are looking for or requesting.
Also rewarding has been the opportunity to both work on the day-to-day operations of
the library, and get involved in some longer-term projects. Combining working at the desk and assisting readers with project work and more technical tasks makes for varied, entertaining days.
I have also had the opportunity to work in the Sackler Library (which focuses on Ancient History, Archaeology, Art, and Architecture), and the Nizami Ganjavi Library (which covers subjects related to Asia and the Middle East). I have also had the chance to visit other libraries—look out for a future post in the coming weeks on the visit some of us made to the St Edmund Hall library!—and collaborate with staff across the Bodleian Libraries.
As a trainee, I have received nothing but encouragement when it comes to getting involved, learning more, and making changes and improvements in the library. The past few weeks have given me the opportunity to see in practice different aspects of work in academic libraries, and have served to show me a range of possible career paths beyond the traineeship. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year will bring.
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:
After my recent experience of assisting in the Taylor Institution Library’s (and the wider University’s) celebration of 700 years of Dante Alighieri’s contribution to literature, philosophy and the arts, another birthday of note from among the literary canon is almost upon us: Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, the Russian novelist, essayist and journalist, celebrates his 200th birthday on 11 November 2021.
While Italy continues to hold a very special place in my heart, Russia is never far from my thoughts. Thus, an exciting discovery since returning to Oxford and joining the Taylorian has been finding the Russian and Slavonic Collections of the library reunited with the rest of its holdings. When I was last in the city, many Russian texts relevant to my research could be found housed in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages buildings on Wellington Square. Their transfer – along with the rest of the library’s Slavonic holdings – back into the main site means that I’m never far away from a chance to reconnect with this fascinating region – and its literary heritage!
In fact, another key project from my opening months in the new role has been the reclassification of the Slavonic Undergraduate Collection – which includes many classic works of fiction in their original language and English translations – from an old, almost-Library-of-Congress-but-not-quite catalogue system into the more standardised version of this shelfmarking standard. It will bring the Undergraduate Collection in line with both new additions to our Slavonic Research Collection (also housed in the basement) and other languages (and subjects) represented across the library.
In recent weeks, I’ve been working with one of the senior librarians in this process, Jola Hood, who is working like a labour-prize-worthy Stakhanovite to overcome the disruption of the last couple of years and its delay of the work, and ensure the collection is ready for students to access, as the new academic year begins.
Jola is responsible for re-cataloguing each book with a new shelfmark in Aleph (the University’s current computerised catalogue system) according to Library of Congress conventions. The item then comes to me (or one of my colleagues), ready to have this new identification recorded in the book itself, alongside the new collection reference (“Slav UG / LC” – Slavonic Undergraduate Collection / Library of Congress) in pencil, before crossing out any pre-existing shelf marks and barcodes that pre-date the changeover. You can find images showing the separate stages in this process in the gallery below. This crossing-out of the old record, rather than its complete removal or erasure, is actually an important step in preserving the historical record of each book’s life in the library’s collections. Inevitably, books can become lost, misplaced or misidentified over their lifetime, and it’s useful to maintain this physical record of their past journey through the catalogue should some detective work be needed to bring them back to their proper place on the shelves.
The final step is printing a new spine label with the LC shelfmark and adding an identifying red spot to distinguish the Undergraduate Collection from our Research Collection (which have green spots). With so many languages represented in the library, and the further separation of teaching and research collections, these extra steps are essential to the smooth running of the day-to-day re-shelving process.
All this is to say that, aside from the birthday wishes that Dostoevsky is due, a belated ‘welcome to your new home’ on the shelves of the Taylorian is offered from one former-Siberian exile to another:
С Днем Рождения, Достоевский! Добро пожаловать!
(S Dnem Rozhdeniya, Dostoyevskiy! Dobro pozhalovat’!)
I’m sure that with many of the usual opportunities for current students and researchers to be properly introduced to the holdings of the library being curtailed by lingering pandemic protocols, I’ll be called on to direct them to our basement shelves over the coming weeks. And having now been involved in the process of making sure the right books find their way to their new home – Dostoevsky’s works included – it already feels like one of the areas of the library where I, too, feel most at home already.
Sadly, for many of us, the last eighteen months have seen the cancellation, curtailment and delay of countless celebrations, including birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and achievements. At the very least, we’ve been forced to relocate those festivities online and connect with family and friends via laptops and phone screens in a kind of digital limbo.
Re-emerging into the real world from this pandemic-induced Purgatory, I recently returned to Oxford, a city that I’d previously called home for many years. My arrival overlapped with many of the restrictions of the last year and a half being (cautiously) rolled back. As the new Graduate Trainee at the Taylor Institution Library (known colloquially as the ‘Taylorian’), my first week saw the steady disappearance of one-way systems, sign-in slots and restricted access for readers to many of the library’s more intimate spaces.
Like the Bodleian Libraries more broadly, many institutions and historical personages have also found their usual cycles of anniversaries and commemorations disrupted by lockdown measures and restrictions on large gatherings. Excitingly, the prospect of more freedom for staff and readers at the University of Oxford has coincided with another cause for celebration: the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the great Italian poet and philosopher. As a result, the Taylor Institution Library, Weston Library and the Ashmolean Museum have prepared three exhibitions of works from among the libraries’ and museum’s many and varied holdings, which provide visions of, and insights into, the author’s most famous work, the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia). Works from the Taylorian’s collections are included in the Ashmolean and Weston displays. The Taylorian exhibition, ‘Illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy’, meanwhile, also draws upon the collections of the Sackler Library, Oxford’s principal research location for the study of visual culture. Alongside my regular duties at the library (with which I’m slowly familiarising myself), I’ve been fortunate enough to join Clare Hills-Nova (Librarian in Charge, Sackler Library, and Subject Librarian for Italian Literature and Language at the Taylorian) and Professor Gervase Rosser, curatorial lead on all three Oxford Dante exhibitions, in their preparations for the display of prints, manuscripts and illustrated books spanning the seven hundred years since Dante’s passing.
The photos provided here offer a window on the range of texts and images that were chosen for the Taylorian exhibition and the process that went into preparing them for public display. I came into that process after Clare and Gervase had agreed on the works to be included and their gathering from the Taylorian’s rare books and manuscript holdings and other library locations was complete. The exhibition handlist includes an introduction to the works on display as well as a list of works they considered for inclusion.
Together, Clare and I spent an afternoon preparing the exhibition space – among the already impressive holdings of the library’s Voltaire Room.
A provisional placement of the exhibits according to the chronological layout agreed by Clare and Gervase gave us a sense of how the various prints, manuscripts and books would fit within the display cases.
Working with a number of old and rare editions – including some of the oldest books that I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand during my time in Oxford – required careful handling and the use of foam rests and ‘snakes’ (long, cotton-wrapped metal ‘beads’ designed to hold open books). Clare has a background in conservation, so provided an experienced eye and guiding hand throughout the process.
After this initial test-run of the display cases, I was tasked with assisting in the preparation of a bibliography to provide visitors to the exhibition with a comprehensive list of texts on display, and those consulted during the curation process. This not only gave me an excellent opportunity to re-familiarise myself with the Bodleian Libraries’ SOLO (‘Search Oxford Libraries Online’) catalogue, but required some further detective work to collect the full details of some of the more obscure texts included in the exhibition.
Although I’m familiar with this kind of work from my time researching and writing Russian history, and searching for texts catalogued in various forms of transliterated Cyrillic, the preparations for this exhibition included consideration of works in Italian, French and German too. Exploiting the automatic citation tool provided on the SOLO also exposed the potential drawback of relying on technology alone. Each of these languages inevitably has its own bibliographic conventions for the formatting of references (authors, titles, publishing info, etc.), not all of which are captured by auto-generation of citations. Obviously, I still have plenty to learn on that front being based in one of Oxford’s key research centres for modern languages and linguistics!
The whole process also brought home how inconsistent and incomplete some of the catalogue descriptions are within the Bodleian Libraries’ older collections and more unique items. This is quite the mountain to climb for those librarians faced with such a vast (and ever expanding) number of books, journals, periodicals and other ephemera in every language under the sun.
One particular exhibit of note is shown below:
It was wonderful to find such a striking connection between the history of Imperial Russia and Dante’s life and work!
The second set of photos below provides a view of the final layout for each display case. Supporting information to be included alongside the works was still being prepared at the time of taking, but a sense of the diversity of images and lasting influence of Dante’s work on artists, writers, print-makers and publishers across the world is evident already.
Students, faculty and staff from across the University are welcome to visit the Taylorian’s exhibition during library opening hours, from the beginning of Michaelmas term through December 2021. The parallel exhibitions marking Dante’s centenary celebrations are on display for a similar period: Ashmolean Museum (17 September 2021 – 9 January 2022) and Weston Library (8 September 2021 – 14 November 2021), which will give everyone interested in the life, history and influence of Dante the opportunity to explore the wider collections of the University.
Further Oxford Dante events, ranging from concerts to film screenings, to lectures and (of course!) at least one book launch celebrating the 700th anniversary are planned for autumn 2021.
Having now had an insight into the complexities involved in preparing, curating and displaying materials from our impressive Dante collections, the chance to come face-to-face with these exhibits sounds like Paradiso itself!
If you want to know more about Dante-related holdings in Oxford, please check out the Taylorian’s earlier blog posts in this regard (linked below):
I recently returned to Oxford, a city that I’d previously called home for many years. My arrival overlapped with many of the restrictions of the last year and a half being (cautiously) rolled back. I am the new Graduate Trainee at the Taylor Institution Library (known colloquially as the ‘Taylorian’).
We are currently six months into our trainee year (where has the time gone?!). Every one of us is enjoying the experience so far and are even *gasp* starting to consider our careers after this year. When discussing how our work is going at our individual libraries, we have begun to realise that each library is different in its environment and history. Therefore, no two trainee experiences are going to be alike. To illustrate this best, we decided to collaborate together on a (longer than usual) post to showcase the most interesting finds or objects in our libraries. These range from interesting books to some quite unusual artefacts on display. So quickly grab your chosen beverage and get cosy as you go on the unseen tour of Oxford’s libraries!
Upon first glance, Arch.8°.F.1495 looks much like the rest of the rare books alongside which it sits at the Taylorian. Its green Moroccan binding is so dark it appears nearly black, lending its exterior a non-descript quality that reveals very little about its fascinating contents. Surprisingly, this unassuming volume contains two important incunables, Guielmi Castelli’s Due Elegie and Augustine of Hippo’s Confessiones.
I began exploring this volume’s history by researching its maker. A binder’s mark pasted over the vibrant orange endpaper in the upper right corner of the book’s inside front cover states it was bound by “J. Faulkner of 8 Queen Street, Little Tower Hill.” In a London street directory from August of 1817, I discovered a listing for a J. Faulkner at 8 Queen Street, while Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide from May of 1818 lists a “John Faulkner, bookbinder” at that same address. Thanks to an entry in the Glasgow Incunabla Project, I confirmed that Faulker’s bookbinding shop was in business from 1809 to 1833. It seems clear, then, that Arch.8°.F.1495 was bound during this period.
It is possible, though not certain, that the volume’s disparate works were brought together for the first time then in this 19th century context. The Confessions is the much better known of the two works it contains, not solely because of the controversy it caused in the 4th century when Augustine rejected paganism in favour of the rapidly spreading Christianity, but also because of his role in shaping Christian tenets of faith for centuries thereafter. During the Renaissance, amid a revival of interest in the classical “greats,” figures like Augustine were venerated and texts like the Confessions were spread throughout Europe with the aid of the newly invented printing press. The Elegies and its author are, by contrast, much less famous. Castelli, also known as Guillaume Castel, was a French poet and clergyman who lived and worked in Tours from 1458 to 1520, and his Latin text does not appear to be well known. I can only speculate about how two such different texts came to be bound together by Faulkner in London over 300 years later. It’s possible that they were joined when they were printed in the early Renaissance since they share a consistent gothic type, but a shift in the rubrication and the paper quality suggests that they were not previously bound as one. Perhaps Faulkner believed there was money to be made from a volume that combined Augustine and Castelli’s works, but more likely he had a patron who saw an educational value in combining them.
The first clue to the identity of this patron can be found, ironically, at the back of the book, in the form of a donation plate for the Fry Collection. In 1955, the daughters of Joseph Forrest Fry and Susanna Fry donated their family’s collection to numerous libraries across Oxford University. Arch.8°.F.1495 was among those that arrived at the Taylorian. Two family crests on the inside of the front cover of the volume offer further clues about the book’s provenance. The bookplate pasted in the centre of the inner cover identifies the book as having belonged to the personal library of William Horatio Crawford, a collection he would have inherited along with his family estate in the mid 19th century. After researching the Crawford family history, I ascertained that the book must have joined the collection prior to William’s death in 1888. An 1891 newspaper clipping which reads like an advertisement for those interested in purchasing incunables is attached a few pages into the book and is almost certainly a record of sorts for the sale of the Crawford collection. The second crest, that of the Inglis family, may have been attached at this point, indicating that they purchased the book in 1891. Alternatively, it may have been attached much earlier, in which case someone in the Inglis family may have been the patron at whose behest Faulkner bound the Elegies and Confessions together sometime between 1809 and 1833. Given that in 1788 a Dr. Charles Inglis founded my high school, King’s-Edgehill in Windsor, Nova Scotia, I was surprised to stumble across this possible (albeit tenuous) Canadian connection, and I plan to delve further into the relationship between Arch.8°.F.1495 and the Inglis family.
Battershall, Fletcher. Bookbinding for Bibliophiles: Being Notes on Some Technical Features of the Well Bound Book for the Connoisseurs. Greenwich: The Literary Collector Press, 1905.
Johnstone’s London Commercial Guide. London, 1818.
Hughes, Jill. “The Taylor Institution Library.” In David Paisey (ed.): German studies: British resources. Papers presented at a colloquium at the British Library 25-27 September 1985. London 1986, pp. 196-204.
Marks, P.J.M. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
Pearson, David. English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2005.
Saint Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Sotheby’s: Six Centuries of Book Binding. London: Sotheby’s, 2002.
Street directory of London. London, 1817.
Washbourne, Henry. The Book of Family Crests. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, 1840.
Zaehnsdorf, Joseph William. The Art of Bookbinding: a practical treatise, with plates and diagrams. London: George Bell & Sons, 1890.
Jaron Lanier, Who Owns The Future?: Tom Vickers (Sainsbury Business School Library)
Honestly – I picked this off the shelf for its cover. For such a provocative title (evoking the mega-corps of cyberpunk dystopias that lurk in every popular sci-fi rendering of what’s to come) it’s a calming, quite beautiful image. It even ends up being resonant to Lanier’s argument too – a graceful representation of a collective of individuals, and of iteration, algorithmic or otherwise. There’s two pieces of media calling themselves ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’. One is the original 1967 poem by counterculture grandee Richard Brautigan and the other is a 2011 documentary by another Richard, this time Curtis that bleakly shreds the utopian visions of the 60s. This book reminds me of both, and I suspect its author knows and thinks well of both as well. It also has the crucial quality of a book about the future of having been right so far – about fake news, the erosion of democracy, and a whole host of contemporary horrors. Somehow, while reading it, I’m not as depressed about that as I perhaps should be. Lanier has a wry sense of humour about reality which you get the feeling is as much a product of his perceptiveness as the book insights, insights which Lanier makes disarmingly often in a much wider variety of topics than the stated subject fields of technology and economics. He’s honest, personal, and explains things well, and so the book is and does these things too. I have a close friend I’ve known since university who has unnervingly high scores in an Economics & Economic History degree and a subsequent career advising governments on long-term investments, and talking points in here helped me start really picking up what he’s been putting down for years in half a dozen areas of conversation. I may well buy him a copy for his 30th.
Amelia B. Edwards: Erin McNulty (Sackler Library)
While researching for a book display that I was putting together to celebrate LGBT+ History Month at the Sackler Library, I came upon the work of Amelia B. Edwards. Edwards, born in 1831, was an English novelist, journal, and traveller, who contributed greatly to the field of Egyptology, co-founding the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. She was also the founder of the Edwards Chair of Egyptology at University College London. Edwards died in 1892 from influenza, and was buried alongside her partner, Ellen Drew Braysher. In 1877, she published a best-selling travelogue that she had written about her journeys in Egypt, titled A Thousand Miles up the Nile.
I discovered that an 1877 edition of this work was stored in the Sackler’s Rare Book Room, where we house some of our special collections. The book contains illustrations by Edwards of various sites that she visited during her time in Egypt, and its cover is beautifully decorated. The work even has a dedicatory message and signature from the author written inside! Some pictures of the book are included below:
Unfortunately, I was not able to display this older edition, but a newer edition was also available. However, anyone with a valid University or Bodleian card can view our Special Collections materials, such as the above work by Edwards, on request; just ask at the Issue Desk. Also, feel free to come along and have a look at our LGBT+ History Month display, or visit the Sackler blog for more details: http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/sackler/ .
[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]
The Elizabethan Zoo: Emma Jambor (English Faculty Library)
One of my favourite books from the English Faculty Library is The Elizabethan Zoo (edited by M. St. Clare Byrne, published in 1926) from our Rare Book Room. The book describes a variety of normal and fantastical beasts, from the authentic rhino to the extraordinary Hydra and Mantichora. The sources for the text and illustrations come from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Topsell’s The History of Four-footed Beasts (1607) and The History of Serpents (1608). I particularly love the fantastical and frightening illustrations.
Tiny Books!: Evie Brown (Bodleian Library)
My interesting find in the Bodleian collections was a very ordinary transit box…full of tiny children’s books! I love to collect early additions of children’s books – there is something about the illustrations which never fails to bring a smile to my face – so this was an exciting discovery for me. Many of the books in the collection are by Ernest Aris, an early 20th century author and illustrator with an impressive CV of 170 titles to his name.
Aris’ books are beautifully illustrated, with bright and personable characters and it definitely makes a change to the traditional dusty classics and theology books held in the Bodleian!
As well as Aris’ collection of books, the box also contains some re-written classics – The Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe and Alice in Wonderland to name but a few – by Kathleen Fitzgerald. These are interesting as they are bound in suede with gold lettering – beautiful but makes for some grubby fingers!
The final piece I wanted to share was a beautiful book, with a cardboard cover and no binding – the pages are simply held together with string. I love the illustrations, and the tiny matchbox sized box that the book came in. I have included a picture of the book next to my Bodleian reader card to give some perspective – it really is tiny! This book is definitely my favourite as it reminds me a little of the type of things I used to love to make when I was a child, and you can’t help but smile when you see it!
I hope you enjoyed my little interesting find; it’s definitely something a bit different!
Wonders of the Stereoscope – John Jones (London: Roxby Press Productions, 1976): Rhiannon Hartwell (Bodleian Library)
Can you ever be sure you’re seeing the same thing as someone else? How do you teach another person to see what you see?
In addition to providing ample entertainment to Reading Room staff at the Old Bod, Wonders of the Stereoscope has raised a lot of interesting questions about perception and vision!So, what is a stereoscope, exactly? Stereoscopy was developed in the mid-19th century; two images, called ‘stereographs’ are developed side-by-side, showing the left- and right-eye views of a single image. When viewed through a specially-designed stereoscope lens, at the right distance and with relaxed, unfocused vision, the near-identical images should overlap until one, three-dimensional image appears.
According to Brian May (yes, that Brian May, of the band Queen), who formed the London Stereoscopic Company in the early 2000s as a result of his lifelong experimentation with stereoscopy, such images can also be ‘free-viewed’ without the use of lenses – though success with this method has been limited at the Old Bod!
Wonders of the Stereoscope is my favourite item I’ve seen come through the Old Bodleian reading rooms because of the sheer joy it provokes in the reading room team, as everyone shares in the camaraderie of learning a bizarre and intriguing new skill. The images provided by Wonders of the Stereoscope certainly don’t hurt, either – from Charles Blondin perilously balanced on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls, to a walrus in trousers kissing a man on the lips, the often hilarious variety of images provided endless amusement even before they were seen in 3-D!
Thomas Hearne, Remarks and Collections: Harriet David (History Faculty Library)
Tucked down in the local history section in the Lower Gladstone Link (the lowest level of the Bodleian, so close to the water table that it has a pump lurking discreetly in one corner) are the eleven volumes of Thomas Hearne’s Remarks and Collections, published between 1885 and 1921 by the Oxford Historical Society.
Thomas Hearne (bap. 1678, d. 1735) was an antiquary, librarian, and indefatigable gatherer-up of old books, remarkable tales, and Oxford gossip – Hearne matriculated from St Edmund Hall in 1695, and rose rapidly through the academic ranks. His Remarks and Collections are one of the great eighteenth-century diaries, a daily record of Hearne’s life, scholarly discoveries, and political vituperations spanning the years from 1705 to 1735. During this time, Hearn rose to become Second Librarian of the Bodleian, in 1712, and by 1715 had been appointed to the splendidly-named University posts of Architypographer of the Press (responsible for maintaining the standards of the University Press, then lodged in the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre) and Superior Beadle of Civil Law. A glowing future within the Bodleian seemed assured.
Later that same year, however, Hearne was to be ousted from all these posts. So ‘inraged’ was John Hudson, then Bodley’s Librarian, that Hearne records ‘he had the Lock & Key of the Library Door altered on purpose to exclude me from going in and out when I pleased, my own Key being now perfectly useless’ (Remarks and Collections, vol. V, pp. 137-8). Hearne didn’t just get himself fired from the Bodleian – his boss literally changed the locks to keep him out.
This dramatic fall from grace was the result of awkward political and social affiliations. Hearne was a committed and vocal nonjuror (he refused – except on his initial entry to the University – to swear the required oath of loyalty to William and Mary) and Jacobite. Even in the distinctly conservative atmosphere of early eighteenth-century Oxford, his outspoken loyalty to the Stuarts was an embarrassment for the University, which took measures – however inelegant – to protect itself. Hearne’s account of his dismissal, which involves him taking care to read out John Hudson’s ‘false spellings’ (‘Upder Library Keeper’) verbatim, throwing the Vice-Chancellor into a ‘Passion’ (Remarks, vol. V, p. 181), does not show Enlightenment Oxford at its most dignified.
Hearne endured, however. Denied access to Bodleian manuscripts, and refusing – especially towards the end of his life – to spend so much as a single night away from Oxford, he nevertheless refashioned himself as an independent publisher, printing scholarly editions of pre-Reformation texts for a list of dedicated subscribers. And, all this time, he was making a daily entry in his Remarks. They record much valuable bibliographical information, several vigorous (if often one-sided) feuds, and many local curiosities: Hearne was evidently a collector of old people as well as old texts, and the volumes are peppered with his accounts of the remarkably aged, and with their accounts, as told to Hearne, of lost buildings, noted ancestors, and Oxford history. They also give a vivid sense of a stubborn, punctilious, and learned man, as ready to note down ‘Strange lights in the air […] in and ab[ou]t Oxford’ (Remarks, vol. V, p. 181), or a student riot occasioned by a bull-baiting at Headington (the students wished to tie a cat ‘to the Bulls Tayl’; locals objected. The fate of the cat is not recorded (Remarks, Vol. IX, p. 295)), as to chase down early editions of Leland or record the falling prices of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (once ‘a common-place for filchers’ of Burton’s learning, now ‘disregarded’; even Isaac Newton’s works, Hearne reflects, may ‘also in time be turned to wast paper’ (Remarks, Vol. XI, p. 298)).
Hearne died in his lodgings in St Edmund Hall in 1735. He kept his old set of keys to the Bodleian until his death.
If you may not know already, the Taylor Institution houses a vast array of collections on Modern Languages and Literatures. We also house some amazing special collections. Including a lock of Goethe’s hair! The hair is kept in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. Goethe had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and expressionism. His lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.
It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was German publisher and poet Johannes Falk. At the time, Goethe was recovering from a near fatal heart illness. It is possible that the lock of hair was cut, unbeknownst to Goethe, whilst he was enjoying a restorative sleep. According to the testimony of John Falk, the living descendant of Johannes Falk, he passed on the hair to a daughter, who then proceeded to pass it onto John’s great grandfather.
In 1953, John’s grandfather, Oswald, agreed to have the hair displayed at the Taylor. The librarian at the time, Donald Sutherland, promised Oswald that the hair would be kept in a show-case in one of the Reading Rooms. For nearly 70 years, the hair has been either on display or kept in the rare book room at the Library.
Personally, I find the hair absolutely fascinating. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting and also act as a sign of prestige. By the end of his life, Goethe was highly celebrated, and to be seen to possess a lock of hair from the head of the man himself, certainly conveyed privilege. Nick Hearn, French and Russian Subject Consultant at the Taylor, adds that in the lock of Goethe’s hair the comical and frivolous seem to combine with the eternal and the hagiographical. I quite agree, as the hair has never or rarely been separated from its accompanying items. I have written a longer piece, providing more details on the hair and its associated paraphernalia. I will post this soon!
Hi everybody I’m Madeleine, one of two trainees based this year primarily at the Taylor Institution Library with shifts at the Sackler and Oriental Institute as well. I just graduated this spring with my BA Honours degree in History and Art History from Queen’s University in Canada, and after working in archives and museums previously I am now keen to pursue a career in academic librarianship.Being a trainee at the Taylorian has been wonderful so far in part because of the extensive collections it encompasses. The Western and Eastern European languages, Linguistics, Film Studies, and Women’s Studies collections make for not only a fascinating range of library resources here but also some neat research going on at any minute. Most people gravitate towards our beautiful reading room adjacent to the main research collection stacks it seems!
I am primarily based at the issue desk so far, fielding reader inquiries, doing some book processing, shelving, and most recently preparing for inductions week. A favourite moment of my traineeship so far was when I got to work with Dalí, Matisse, and Picasso prints from the Strachan Artist Book collection all in one afternoon. I am really looking forward to all that is to come this year, in part because of an exciting new Navigation and Wayfinding Project that I am undertaking with my fellow trainee Chloe and a team of librarians across the Taylorian and Sackler to improve reader experience.
I’m Chloe, and I am currently working as one of the two trainees at the Taylor Institution Library, this year. In the past two weeks, I have been mainly working on the enquiries desk, helping readers find their away around the labyrinth that is the Taylor! Other duties include processing books coming from and returning to the Book Storage Facility in Swindon, shelving, and responding to readers over email and telephone. I am also involved in one of the Navigation and Wayfinding projects taking place this year, where as a team I will be helping to improve reader experience of navigating the Taylor and Sackler Libraries. A challenge, I am sure you will agree, if you have ever been to the Taylor or the Sackler! Alongside Evie, I will be helping to manage the trainee blog, so am welcoming any suggestions and volunteers for blog posts from current trainees.
Before the Taylor…
I have had a bit of a career change, as I was working as an archaeologist before. I worked on numerous sites, many rural and a few urban in Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire. I would say my best find was a fully articulated horse skeleton, which had a human skeleton right next to it! I got very excited, believing it to be a horse and rider burial. As I investigated, though, I realised that the burials were actually separate events, with the horse having been buried before. Such is the life of an archaeologist, as coin hoards and treasure troves are very rare finds, not what Time Team would have you believe!
Before that, I was doing an MA in Classics and Ancient History, as well as volunteering for Exeter Cathedral. There, I assisted with rooftop tours and stewarding. I enjoyed doing extensive research on the cathedral, as it was so useful when dealing with public enquiries about the history of the building. My BA was in Archaeology and Ancient History, and at the end of my degree, I worked full time as a laboratory assistant for my local archaeological unit. I cleaned archaeological finds from a huge Roman site and prepared them for museum storage. The best part of that role was cleaning and preserving Roman painted wall plaster, as uncovering the colours and pigments of the plaster was amazing!
I am very happy to be back in Oxford, as it truly is a great city to live in. I do have a lifetime love of libraries, so cannot believe my luck that I get to work in a beautiful, 19th century library for a year! I am excited to learn new skills, improve my employability in more fields, and just to see where this year will take me.