Today we feature a guest post from Eleanor Winterbottom, also embarking on her Library career here in Oxford:
Hi! My name is Eleanor and I am the Apprentice Library Assistant at St Antony’s College.
My position is a little different to that of a graduate trainee, as instead of going on to do a masters I will be achieving, through my role, a Level 3 apprenticeship qualification in Libraries, Information and Archives Services (LIAS) from Westminster Adult Education Services. This role is fairly new to the college, I am actually St Antony’s first apprentice! I am loving every moment so far, I find it is the perfect balance of academic and vocational training.
I spend most of my working day in the beautiful main reading room of the college library, which used to be a chapel from when the college was a monastery for the Society of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. St Antony’s College is quite young, and we have gained over the years a plethora of modern and quirky buildings that reflect the college’s multicultural subject areas, but the Old Main Building and library has to be favourite place in the college (though of course I am biased!)
I’m also lucky that on St Antony’s campus we don’t just have the college library, but access to the Middle East Centre library, the Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre library, and the Bodleian Japanese library. Although I don’t work in these libraries myself, having such close access to them means I am able to immerse myself even more in the weird and wonderful world that is the Bodleian libraries.
The first full week of October this year is National Libraries Week 2021. It is also Oxford University’s “0th week” – the week before the start of term in which we welcome students (new and returning!) to Oxford and begin to prepare for the new academic year. With this in mind, I have been reflecting on my own time in libraries at Oxford – as an Undergraduate at Lady Margaret Hall (2015-2018, English), a Graduate at St Hilda’s College (2020-2021, Medieval English Literature), and as a Graduate Trainee Library Assistant at St Edmund Hall.
Books books books…
Like most people, the first thing I think when someone says “library” is “books!”, and like most English students, the second thing I think is “ooh let me see”. I highly doubt that anyone will be surprised to learn that I have always loved books – reading them, talking about them, buying them… even just being around them. Of course, Oxford as a city and University is a book-lover’s dream come true. With more than 100 libraries containing over 12 million printed items (and much more besides), the opportunities to read and research are incredible. Yet the sheer volume of what is available can be a little overwhelming. Two pieces of advice, however, really helped me.
First: always factor in book-finding time! This was probably the most important thing anyone said to me as an undergraduate. Especially in the first term, you find yourself juggling a whole new set of commitments, and adjusting to the restraints on your time. “Get that book” deserves its own portion of time in your day, and factoring in that time will mean less running from shelf to shelf in a panic! Second: if in doubt, ask. Often we don’t want to ask a question because it seems silly, or it’s something we think we should know the answer to. Luckily, librarians are there to answer precisely those questions! Coming fresh to librarianship from being a student, I’m really looking forward to supporting all library users however they need it.
Spaces and places
Libraries are not just home to books, of course, but to a wide range of resources and facilities – from e-journals to medieval manuscripts, from colour printers to overlays to aid reading. They are also important spaces for humans. I certainly would not have enjoyed my degrees had I not felt so at-home in my college and faculty libraries. I would also highly recommend making a pub-crawl-style bucket list of libraries to which you have access! They all have something different to offer. A surprise favourite of mine has always been the Social Sciences Library – modern, comfortable, and conveniently close to the Missing Bean coffee shop!
Now, I’m very lucky to come to work everyday in the beautiful setting of Teddy Hall’s Library: the deconsecrated church of St Peter-in-the-East. The core of the existing church – the nave, chancel, and crypt – was built between 1130 and 1160, and the building grew substantially in the next 400 years. In fact, the Lady Chapel is believed to have been donated by St Edmund of Abingdon (the Hall’s namesake) in c.1220, during his time as a lecturer at the University. It was in 1970 that St Peter-in-the-East opened as Teddy Hall’s library. It is a truly wonderful space, complete with stained glass windows and desks tucked away up in the church’s tower.
While I was an Undergraduate, I volunteered as an Ambassador for the English Faculty. This was my first introduction to a side of libraries in which I have become increasingly interested, and which I look forward to exploring more during my time as a trainee: outreach and access. Libraries are hubs of intellectual activity, and important places – as I have said – for resources and people alike. I hope I can use this year to learn more about how we can make Oxford’s libraries as welcoming and outward-facing as possible, so that they are spaces in which everyone feels they have a place.
Hello, I’m Emily the trainee at the History Faculty Library this year. It’s housed in the beautiful Radcliffe Camera and links to the Old Bodleian Library via the underground, more futuristic looking Gladstone Link. The Bodleian Library Collection lives alongside the History Faculty Library, which took me a while to get my head around, but importantly I’ve now figured out which books can be borrowed!
So far, my days have been really varied — I’ve spent time on the reception and circulation desk answering queries, processing deliveries from the Book Storage Facility, scanning material for readers, checking reading lists and processing books. The team has recently joined with the Old Bodleian Library team, which means that I also get to spend time working across there with Juliet, the Old Bodleian trainee. It adds even more variety although I still have a lot to learn — particularly on how to answer the many questions that come to the Main Enquiry Desk!
The Camera itself is spectacular inside as well as out and while the Gladstone Link might have more of a modern feel, it still has a lot of history too. You can see where the tracks would have run to transport books underground between the buildings and there are still the heavy metal sliding bookcases in the Upper Gladstone Link, which were designed by Gladstone himself!
Compared to my first few days, when readers needed to book limited COVID seating, the library is feeling much busier now the new academic year is approaching. I’m looking forward to the start of term and the year ahead!
Hello! I’m Lizzie and I am the new Graduate Trainee for All Souls College Library. I spend much of my time in the beautiful eighteenth-century Great Library, doing admin in the library office, reshelving in the stacks or haunting the cellars (where books are also kept).
My background is in English Literature, completing an MA in English Literary Studies at Durham a few years ago. After graduating, I knew wanted a career working with books. Before my traineeship, I worked in academic publishing – which crosses over a little with librarianship – and so I have had some prior experience dealing with books and databases. I heard about the traineeship through an academic librarian, but I was unsuccessful in my applications before COVID-19 hit and stopped everything, including libraries. I knew librarianship was something I wanted to pursue further so I worked remotely on a project for a college library in Cambridge to gain some more experience and applied again – and I was successful!
The library experience at All Souls is unique and diverse. Unlike other college libraries, All Souls does not have any students; instead, the library has a ‘three-way’ aspect: supporting the college’s fellows, welcoming readers from across the university, and working with international researchers. The library has been closed over the summer, so I have yet to see a Reader, but no day has been the same. During September, the library has hosted several big university events, such as Encaenia and the prize fellowship examinations.
All Souls can appear mysterious from the outside – and there are many tourists often peering in through the gates on Radcliffe Square eager to get a glimpse of Oxford’s ‘most exclusive’ college — however, All Souls College Library is open to any member of the University (as well as outside students and researchers) to apply to become a Reader, so long as you have a research need. The library has a speciality in European, Military and Naval History and Law; it is also home to many treasures of early printed books and substantial archives, as well as a significant collection of drawings by Christopher Wren. You can see more of the library’s collection which has been digitalized on the library website.
My traineeship promises to be an interesting year; I am looking forward to discovering more about All Souls and its library.
Hi! I’m Juliet, the Graduate Library Trainee at the Old Bodleian Library.
The Old Bod is aptly named, as it is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. The library comprises of three historic reading rooms: the Lower Reading Room, the Upper Reading Room and Duke Humfrey’s Library.
The latter is the oldest part of the building, which opened to scholars in 1602 – it also happens to be where I carry out most of my computer work, which is very cool! In addition, ten years ago the library was extended to include a fourth reading room in the Lower Gladstone Link, which is situated under the Radcliffe Camera, and connects to the Old Bod via an incredible space-age tunnel.
Before applying to the trainee scheme, I was working in a local pub, and prior to that I completed my degree in Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester. I began to strongly consider librarianship as a career during the pandemic, and I was lucky enough to gain a position in a public library over the summer. I absolutely loved my time in this role – it made me realise how much I enjoyed working directly with people, whilst also taking advantage of my organisational skills.
To reiterate some of the other trainees, you absolutely don’t need to have library experience to apply for the role. In my current role I use so many skills I have gained from working in customer service, but also from my volunteering positions in school libraries, charities, community organisations and archives – value the experience you have and don’t undersell yourself.
As of today, it has officially been one month since I started working in the Old Bod, and I still can’t believe that I’m here. The trainee scheme is undeniably an incredible opportunity to learn, and I am looking forward to seeing how the role develops as the year goes on.
I’m one of two trainees based at the Bodleian Law Library this year, also spending one to two days a week at the Sainsbury Library in the Saïd Business School. Before arriving as a graduate trainee, I read for an MSt in Musicology at Worcester College and I can occasionally be spotted in the wild rowing on black and pink blades (or spending my entire paycheque in Blackwell’s).
I’ve been spending my first few weeks surrounded by large piles of books and large piles of stamps, getting to grips with law citations, and memorising exactly where each range of shelfmarks lives in the library. I’m very excited to dive into reclassifying the jurisprudence section, which gives me the opportunity to research my way through the terminology, and I’m sure will leave me with some legal French and German on the other side of the year. Whilst many of my responsibilities involve hiding in my office with red dots, sticky labels, and reading lists – which is where I like to be – I’m looking forwards to seeing how the library changes with the arrival of more readers and putting everything I’ve been trying to learn to new uses.
Hello, I’m Jemima, the trainee at New College Library. After a month of working here, my favourite element so far has been my involvement with the special collections. As a Classics graduate, I’m constantly looking for ways to put my four years of studying dead languages into practice, not always easy beyond university. At New College, however, I have been able to use my Latin to help to choose an image of one of our manuscripts for a Christmas card. I read and translated the Latin texts to check whether their meanings were appropriate for Christmas, rather than one of the more challenging, or perhaps less festive, Bible passages.
I’ve had a fantastic time this morning, helping to make a video for our Curators’ Choice series, which will go out next term. This video focused on the Atlas of the countries of England and Wales, produced by Christopher Saxton in 1579 – the first atlas created of any country! I’ve always loved poring over old maps and I felt so lucky to be able spend time with this fascinating book.
My Classics degrees (from Exeter and Oxford) and my experience of working in a county museum were definitely key factors that directed me towards library work, especially in special collections. Most recently, I’ve been working in a reception/admin role at a GP surgery, an experience which was really valuable in showing me how much I enjoy working directly with people. I’m very much looking forward (albeit with some apprehension) to when the students return for term time and there can (hopefully) be more face-to-face contact.
Apart from work with special collections, my day-to-day work includes processing new acquisitions to the library, helping to run our social media accounts, dealing with readers’ requests for specific books, and updating our new books display. It’s also been lovely to be able to attend training sessions, and meet the other trainees, in person. I’m excited to learn more about librarianship and to see where the year takes me.
My name is Lucy and I’m the Graduate Trainee at the Social Science Library this year. I just graduated from the University of Nottingham this summer with a BA in Theology and Religious Studies after completing my dissertation on a sociological study of LGBTQ+ Christian women, and I’m really excited to take on a new challenge working at the Bodleian Libraries. I don’t have any experience in libraries besides two weeks of work experience in a public library in 2016, so if you’re reading this wondering whether you should apply, you should go for it anyway! I was worried I would feel out of my depth, but skills you’ll have picked up in customer service or even as a user of your own university library are very transferable. Additionally, since taking up our posts, we’ve had weekly training sessions to increase our confidence working with readers and in technical services. I’ve always had an interest to work in libraries, archives or the heritage sector, so seeing this opportunity come up seemed to good to miss. I love that I get to combine working in an academic environment with meeting and helping so many different people every day, and making information accessible whilst assisting people in their research is very rewarding.
What I’ve loved most about this job so far is the variety in every day – it’s never the same! I never know quite what to expect when I’m coming in. It could be a busy day at the desk giving pointers to new students, I could be scanning and digitising print copies of our books and resources for readers to access electronically, or I may need to assist a reader navigating an obscure database all in German (has only happened once thankfully!) It’s been interesting arriving just as some of the Covid-19 restrictions begin to lift at the university as I’ve been able to have an insight into how the libraries quickly adapted to continue to provide essential services, but I’m thankful I will now be able to assist our readers in-person here at the library and see it as the busy lending library it usually is!
I’m Izzie, the graduate trainee at the Sackler Library. Here, we hold collections relating to art and architectural history, and archaeology and the ancient world. These collections are, without doubt, wonderful to peruse when I am handling them for various tasks.
Before coming to Oxford, I completed my undergraduate degree in Law. During my studies, I worked for a legal database and provided support for students when navigating information. From here, working with readers and resources at the Bodleian seemed the perfect next step. Fortunately, I got the position and the opportunity to build on this experience!
It has already emerged that library users utilise the Sackler for a variety of needs and purposes. I am certainly looking forward to learning all I can this year, moving from a student to university staff, and – accordingly – better understanding the functioning of academic libraries.
Hi, I’m Josie, the current Academic Services trainee in the Law Library. Earlier this year I graduated from the University of Aberdeen, where I did a joint MA (undergrad MA, it’s a Scottish thing) in Celtic & Anglo-Saxon Studies and English alongside a sustained study in jazz saxophone. At the beginning of 2021 I knew I was definitely interested in some sort of postgraduate study, but wasn’t sure which area to pursue, and was also keen to get some practical experience after a year of mostly-remote learning. Although I’ve been interested in librarianship for a while, I didn’t know about these traineeships until a friend who’d previously done one suggested I apply- that conversation happened just a couple of weeks before the Bodleian deadline, so I feel very lucky to be here at all! My previous experience comes from volunteering in my school library, various customer service positions, and assorted musician shenanigans; surprisingly, I think the thing that’s been most relevant to my new role so far is the music librarianship work I did for student ensembles. That job mostly involved un-breaking the photocopiers (I swear they can tell when you’re doing something at the last minute) and getting a lot of sheet music to the right place and time in the right order, so wrangling the Bookeye scanner into fulfilling scan-and-deliver requests feels reassuringly familiar at times.
As someone whose prior law knowledge is either medieval or minimal, the first few weeks of the traineeship have been a big learning curve: so many law reports! so many abbreviations! so many tiny hidden staircases that somehow never come out quite where I expect them to! The Law Library involves an incredible range of resources and services, and my role as the AS trainee currently feels like a strange race as I attempt to get enough of a head start on the freshers to actually understand what I’ll be helping out with. However, I enjoy a challenge, and I’m really looking forward to getting into term-time activities as we welcome students back to the library. Once I get to grips with things like the difference between Halsbury and Hansard, learn how to read case citations, and stop getting lost in Official Papers, I think that this is going to be a hugely rewarding year.