The Twelve Days of Libmas

Arguably one of the best known example of a cumulative song, The Twelve Days Of Christmas has been in existence as far back as 1780, when it was published in Mirth Without Mischief and has featured in many a carol concert (who doesn’t love belting out ‘five gold rings,’ after all?). As a means of counting down to the Christmas closure period, the trainees collaborated with colleagues across the Bodleian and College libraries to bring you our own adaptation of The Twelve Days of Christmas – naturally with a library twist!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my library sent me…

Twelve Music Boxes

Karlheinz Stockhausen was an influential German composer of the 20th and early 21st centuries. One of his most well-known compositions is Tierkreis, or Zodiac, which included 12 movements, each representing one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. This was later adapted as part of Musik im Bauch (translated as ‘music in the stomach/belly’), where each movement was transferred to a music box. In performances, three boxes would be selected and inserted into the stomach of a “bird-man” puppet called Miron, who would be suspended above the stage and accompanied by six percussionists.  

An album cover with a bright red background. In the centre there is an image of a bird-man puppet facing the camera, with an opening in its stomach that someone is placing a music box in. There is blue text above reading 'MUSIK IM BAUCH' and text below reading 'Stockhausen.'
The album cover for Musik im Bauch by Stockhausen


Stockhausen, Karlheinz, & Stockhausen, Christel. (1985). Tierkreis = Zodiac = Zodiaque : Version für Klarinette und Klavier : 1975/81, Werk Nr. 41 8/9 (1st ed.). Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.


Eleven Kickstools Dancing (written by Abby Evans)

A gif showing a short stop motion animation. Blue, yellow and red footstools, some with plastic ducks on top, move from the right to the left. In the background there are rows of tables and chairs, with bookshelves at the back of the room.
Eleven kickstools dancing through the EFL

We have lots of kickstools available at the library, so you can reach high shelves without injuring yourself – or the books! Once a year we test the kickstools to make sure they’re still fit and healthy, and not wobbly or unsafe. This year the EFL’s ducks decided to help too! 




Ten Lords A-Leaping (written by Charlie Ough)

Burke’s Peerage

Lords would ‘leap’ into the ranks of nobility by virtue of the “Commoners at Westminster”, according to the publisher of the first 21st century editions of that illustrious series, Burke’s Peerage and Landed Gentry. Housed in the oldest reading room of the Old Bodleian, Duke Humfrey’s Library, Burke’s seems to represent perfectly some of the most uncomfortable views held in Oxford in taking aim at parvenu aristocrats who, by talent, hard work, or just celebrity, have taken the place of lords and ladies hitherto upholding the “values of this Kingdom and of its many Dominions and Territories across the seas.


Nine Books for Binding 

Given just how old some of our books are, its understandable that signs of wear and tear begin to appear. Depending on the age and importance of the books, they can either be sent to the Conservation Team (housed in the Weston) or to the bindery for a bit of TLC.

A closeup of a bookshelf with 9 books, some with visible damage. A white label is stuck to the bottom of the shelf with black text that reads 'Please leave for: REBINDING.'
Nine books for binding


Eight Maids in Writing (written by Grace Exley)

Eight books which highlighting working class women in literature sit in front of a panelled wall, a potted plant sits to the left.
A display on working class women at Jesus College Library

Not very Christmassy, perhaps, but delving into literature about maids frequently reveals discontent about tendencies towards the abuse of working-class women and the way that economic structures echo and reinforce these tendencies. This display at Jesus College Library has examples of fiction and nonfiction books that examine the treatment of working-class women. 



Several Singers Singing

The Bodleian Choir (made up of members from across Oxford’s GLAM – Gardens Libraries and Museums – sector ), after rehearsing throughout October, November and December, got the chance to perform at the Weston Library and the Divinity School in early December. Just one of a huge range of festive activities on offer in Oxford as we approach Christmas.

Five people stand in front of wood panelling each with a songbook held open in front of them. They are smiling with their mouths open in song.
Several singers singing


Six All Souls Mallards

All Souls College has a long association with mallards. Dating back to at least 1632, All Souls College mark a custom known as ‘Hunting the Mallard’ every hundred years on January 14th that involves a procession with lit torches. (Hole, 1950). As the last such ceremony took place in 2001, these wooden mallards will have to tide us over for the next 79 years! 

Hole, C. (1950). English custom & usage (3rd ed.). London: Batsford.

Five wooden mallards sit atop a row of blue and red books on a bookshelf. One is significantly larger than the others and has a loop of blue tinsel around his green neck. Three little brown mallards sit beside him to the right and a brown red and yellow mallard appears to peer down at the floor to his left. Above them all is a painting of a mallard in a golden frame.
Six Mallards of All Souls College.

Five Old Keys (written by Caitlín Kane)

Lots of our collections are housed in very old buildings, so we’re used to some old fashioned security measures. This particularly archaic set of old keys unlock Muniment Tower at New College. The tower was built in the late 14th Century, and it houses New College’s archives.

Four Festive Ducks (written by Abby Evans)

Exit, pursued by a duck? If you’ve visited the EFL recently, you might have caught a glimpse of their four festive ones! There’s Santa Duck, Frosty the Snow Duck, Rein-Duck (with a charming reindeer hat), and Han(duck)kah. They can often be found hanging around the returns trolley, welcoming all the books back to the library. But they like to move around too. When I asked them, they said it was because they wanted to get to know everything about how the library works – just like a Trainee!

If you are popping into the EFL, don’t forget to say hello to Bill too. He’s our full-time duck and usually sits on the main enquiry desk, just in front of the PC, greeting readers and helping library staff scan all the loans and returns.



Three French Gems

Making recommendations is a particularly enjoyable part of working in libraries, especially when we can get creative with our displays (see if you can spot the tiny KeepCup)! . French books are – unsurprisingly – found in abundance at the Taylor Library, but can also be found elsewhere, including on display at Jesus College Library.


Two Belligerent Busts (written by Ruth Holliday)

At the bottom of the stairs to the Upper Library (which houses some of Christ Church’s special collections) an array of somewhat imposing busts hover, as if waiting to test your knowledge on cataloguing systems. Among them are Richard Busby [1], a headmaster of Westminster school in the 17thcentury [2] and Richard Frewen, who actually studied at Westminster under Busby and later studied and taught at Christ Church where he became a physician, amongst other things [3].

[1] The British Museum hold a selection of portraits of Busby – see them here! 

[2] A not very generous description of whom can be found in Pope’s Dunciadfor those willing to put up with its infamously relentless referents. 

[3] An interesting and varied character was Richard Frewen! Read more about him here.

And a Pigeon with a Pear Tree

Perhaps taking the ‘opening doors’ concept a little too far, this guest reader at the Taylor Institution Library ruled the roost of the research collection for a few hours back in August.

It seemed only fitting to pair our pigeon with this gorgeous woodcut illustration of a pear tree from John Parkinson’s Theatrum Botanicum, published in 1640.


Now that the tune is definitely stuck in all of your heads, nothing remains but for me to say thank you to all of the people who contributed to this post; specifically the trainees and the Music Faculty Library. The Twelve Days of Libmas has also been shared on our twitter. On behalf of all of the 2022-23 trainees, I would also like to thank the readers of this blog- we hope you enjoyed reading the posts as much as we did writing them! We’ll be back with more content from across the Bodleian and College Libraries in January, but until then we wish you all an enjoyable and relaxing festive period and a fantastic start to 2023!

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