The Edible Book Festival 2017

Our prize winning cake! Photo by Chantal van den Berg.

On Thursday 2nd March, the 2nd Annual Edible Book Festival took place at the RSL to mark World Book Day. To take part in the festival, participants enter “bookish” art pieces that need to be mostly edible. These pieces can therefore represent a book title, a book cover, a character, a plot element or theme. As this competition combined books and cake, several trainees were naturally eager to take part, and, over the course of several days, we came up first with an idea for a cake and then brought it to life!

To begin with, we decided to meet up in the aptly inspiring café in Blackwell Hall to discuss potential ideas. After much debate, we eventually decided on our book: The Maltese Falcon by Daniel Hammett. Published in 1929, this detective novel describes a series of murders connected with the Maltese Falcon – a valuable statue made by the 16th century Knights of Malta as a gift to the King of Spain. We therefore felt that this statue would be the perfect centrepiece for a cake. As the book is set in Malta, we decided that Maltesers would naturally be an excellent edible decoration for our book, and, as chocolate cake is always popular, we quickly had a sketched bake-off style design to work from. Now all we had to do was actually create our culinary masterpiece!

Law trainee Fiona watches as Chantal, Will and David decorate the cake with Maltesers. Olivia works on the falcon, the star of the cake, made entirely out of sugar paste. Photo by Jessica Woodward.

It became clear that the perfect venue for our big baking session would be the Trainee House in Iffley (a.k.a. the shared home of trainees from the Law Library, SSL and University Archives, plus Will, who recently morphed from Taylorian trainee into PTFL trainee). At our final preparation at the Blackwell Hall meeting, we allocated responsibility for the ingredients, agreeing who would purchase what, and who would brave the intricate task of sculpting the falcon in advance of the main baking session.  Luckily, we had Olivia – art-school graduate, former Downton Abbey costume-maker, and Sackler trainee – on the team.  She offered to build a feathery head and body, which would be complemented by delicious chocolate wings baked by David the SSL trainee.

Our delicious cake is slowly taking shape. We used a recipe from Nigella Lawson, called Devil’s food cake. Sinfully delicious indeed! Photo by Jessica Woodward.

The culinary evening arrived. With great festivity, we took the bus to Iffley, made a quick trip to the Co-Op, and we were ready.  As an all-knowing David recited each stage of a Nigella chocolate-cake recipe (which was Chantal his fellow SSL trainee’s recommendation), the kitchen filled with the chinks of stirring spoons and the bubbling of melting chocolate.  A dark, spongy mass took shape.  It needed to cook then cool, so we rewarded ourselves with well-earned pizza while we waited.  Finally, we gathered at the table to secure Maltesers in careful circles around the falcon centrepiece.

The final result! Photo by Chantal van den Berg.

The next morning, David and Olivia handed the cake over to the RSL staff, who put it on display alongside its competitors.  At 1pm, the RSL Lounge opened its gates to a gaggle of eager cake fans, including us!  Ideas were admired, photos were taken.  We were fascinated to see the other creations, with Far From the Madding Crowd, The Silver Pigs and The Bees proving particular favourites (if you’d like to see photos of these and more, click here).  We felt excited to observe that the voting sheet for our cake was filling up fast with audience approvals… and when the judges confirmed that we had won the People’s Choice Award, we were thrilled!

A selection of the other entries: In Search of Lost Time, Cider with Rosie, Silence of the Yams (behind the cider bottle), Grapes of Wrath and The Catcher in the Rye. Photo by Chantal van den Berg.
Jessica, Will, David and Chantal looking surpised and pleased. Sadly, Olivia couldn’t be there. Photo by Dawn Young.

The Edible Book Festival was certainly a wonderful experience; and a tasty one, seeing as we got to tuck into all the cakes after the judging was over!  Those of us who are around next year will no doubt be keen to do it again!

After the prizes were awarded, it was time to eat! After only a few moments, our cake was almost entirely gone. Our falcon is looking proud! Photo by Chantal van den Berg.

By William Shire (PTFL), Jessica Woodward (Taylor Institution), Olivia Freuler (Sackler), David Phillips and Chantal van den Berg (both SSL)

A year in review: – The Survival guide to being a Graduate Trainee at the SSL

Our year as Trainees is coming to a close. I want to take this opportunity to give you a brief overview of what it has been like being a graduate trainee at the Social Science Library (AKA the SSL) and some of the interesting things I have got up to over the year. Don’t worry, there are lots of nice pictures.


20160728_112458SSL staff enjoying one of the monthly coffee and cake meetings

Coming from a non-library background I was more than a little nervous about starting my Traineeship at the SSL. I met all the staff straight away, and I had to quickly learn everyone’s names and what they did. Luckily everyone was very welcoming and put me at ease. The friendless of the staff has been one of the best things about working at the SSL. We even have regular team meetings (with cake) so we are kept up to date with what everyone else is getting up to around the library.

Intensive Training

Our workload is very varied, so getting to grips with all the different tasks is hugely important. Most of my first couple of weeks were spent being trained up by other members of staff. It was a little overwhelming having to learn so much in such a short time, but I soon got the hang of it.  The SSL has one of the most exhaustively comprehensive staff manuals I have ever seen, so if you ever forget a procedure or a password it is easy enough to find.

20160720_140253The graduate trainees attempt to concentrate on their training session on one of the hottest days of the year.

As well as the training I have received on the job, I had the opportunity to take part in the Graduate Trainee training sessions, in which all the Trainees from across the libraries get together to learn more about a particular aspect of librarianship. These run throughout the year and cover an amazing range of topics.  My personal favourites were on customer care, librarian careers and the role of the subject librarian. They are also a great opportunity to get to know your fellow trainees.

Happy to Help

Once I was20160722_153017 all trained up it was time to get to work! One of my favourite parts of this job has been helping readers on our issue desk. This can be quite exciting when it is busy but I had to learn how to multitask and be prepared for the varied questions that came my way.  I even got a shiny purple “Ask a librarian badge” for the first two weeks of term. A lot of interesting people come to our library, from new undergraduates to academic staff and visitors, and some of them have great stories. It is always satisfying to be able to help someone find a resource they desperately need. I also got to help give tours to new students across the year so they can learn how the library works.


Giving  a tour around the SSL.


The great book detective

20160728_104504Sometimes solving enquiries at the SSL takes a bit of detective work. Whether looking for clues to work out where a missing book might have gone or asking around the Bodleian’s technical staff to work out why a reader can’t access an e-resource, we get some head-scratchers. Solving such mysteries keeps the job interesting and rewarding.





A study in Scarlet: Trying to find a missing book that could have been misshelved


Parts of a process

20160721_111403As well as helping readers with their enquiries, the SSL Trainees work on technical services. This mainly involves processing the new books that come in ready for readers to borrow or repairing old ones so they can go back on to the shelves. The shelves of books to process can fill up very fast, particularly at the beginning of terms when books are ordered for new reading lists. The stickering, stamping and covering of books can be almost meditative.



The SSL’s other Trainee, Tom, gets a book ready for our readers.

Out and about


One of the most fun things about being a Bodleian Graduate Trainee is the chance to visit a whole range of interesting libraries and archives. Over the year I have been privileged to visit the Conservation Department in the Weston Library, the University and Balliol archives and a variety of libraries in London. It’s fascinating to see all the different places librarianship can take you.

Visiting the Guardian: The creatures outside looked from pig to librarian, and from librarian to pig, and from pig to librarian again; but already it was impossible to say which was cuter

Being Social

One of my contributions to the Bodleian libraries Instagram showing a book being processed

On top of my regular duties, I have had to take a crash course in social media. I contribute to the SSL’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as Bodleian Libraries’ main Instagram account. One of the most exciting projects I took part in was the ‘Twitter Takeover’, in which the SSL got to take over the main Bodleian’s Twitter account for a day.


In addition to working it’s also important to remember to have fun once the working day is done! It’s been lovely to socialise with and get to know my fellow Trainees. They will be one of the things I will miss the most when my Traineeship is over.


The Graduate Trainees enjoy an end of year picnic at St. Hilda’s college

I hope this has given you a flavour of life as a Graduate Trainee. I have done so many interesting things that is impossible to put them all in one blog post! It has been an enriching experience, and if you are thinking about applying, I thoroughly recommend it.


Cake picnics are a very important aspect of librarianship.

If there’s one thing that appears to unite all library people, it’s a love of cake…

One of the great things about the traineeship with the Bodleian Libraries, is that you have a network of other trainees for support both socially and professionally. This year there are 18 of us all together, and this means that there’s always another trainee to talk to about your mistakes, concerns and the stress of impending library school applications.

But it isn’t all about the work. This Friday the majority of us gathered in the Bodleian tea room for a pot luck style cake picnic over lunch. The instruction was merely ‘bring desserts’. I decided upon what I believe is festive, but not too aggressively festive, shortbread, but Hannah had actually MADE biscuits, and Mandi had even brought cake from M&S, so there was a nice spread of sweet treats for us to enjoy. We decided that we should make it a regular Friday thing, and even took a picture to celebrate the occasion.

Aren’t we a photogenic bunch? Enjoying our cake picnic in the Bodleian tea room.

As I said, it’s really great to have several other people in the same boat as you. Working in a fixed term post means it can be hard to feel comfortable all the time, as well as the fact we all need to consider investing a huge amount of money in a professional qualification. A few of the group have already done one Masters degree so the thought of another can be quite daunting.

Having been previously offered a traineeship at a school elsehwere in the country, where I would have been the only trainee for miles and miles, I am glad to be part of a scheme where I know I can just shoot an email off to a mailing list, and be in the pub of an evening a few days later, trying really hard not to talk about MA tuition fees…