Sackler 101: Cataloguing the Sackler’s Special Collections

The Trials and Tribulations of Assessing a Catalogue Record

Since November 2017 I have been working on a project at the Sackler Library to assess the quality of existing library cataloguing for different subsets of materials held in the library’s Special Collections.  With the goal, ultimately, to inform the decision on whether bibliographic access to materials held in closed stacks is satisfactory, we have examined a sample of resources from the Rare Book Room and the Wind Room and asked: Are these resources recorded in bibliographic records (or ‘bibs. in cataloguing parlance’) in SOLO, and are these bibs.[i] sufficiently ‘good’ to enable readers to complete the user tasks[ii] necessary for their research and study?  While only a very small number (four out of the initial sample of 312 resources) turned out to be omitted entirely from the catalogue, we have become aware of a wide range of issues that adversely affect retrieval.  Hence, the short answer on whether appropriate bibliographic access to Sackler Special Collections materials exists, is … usually.

A number of underlying factors might contribute to this qualification: the period during which a resource was first catalogued (professional standards have varied and evolved over time, and the earliest bibs., transcribed from early printed catalogue entries, are very basic indeed), the expertise of the cataloguer, whether she or he had sufficient time to catalogue a resource adequately, and – not to put too fine a point on it – how engaged the cataloguer was on the day.[iii]

But sometimes the specific nature of the resource in hand is intrinsically problematic: some ‘books’ are much better behaved than others; sometimes ‘books’ aren’t ‘books’ at all. And sometimes the sheer mass of resources held in the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford’s constituent college libraries obscures collocation, duplication, relationships.

For this post, I’ve taken for a starting point a bib. [(UkOxU)013068990 — type the number in SOLO’s Search box and you will find the record] that’s not ‘up to snuff’.

The work is catalogued under the title:

              22 photographs from the Oxford loan collection of historical portraits exhibited in 1906.

Sounds simple enough? As catalogued, the resource is comprised of two small portfolios of black-&-white photographic reproductions of painted portraits exhibited in Oxford in 1905 and 1906.  Speaking frankly, this is the sort of thing that was probably passed over on the to-do trolley for some time[iv] before someone sufficiently brave – or foolhardy – decided that the Time Had Come. Everything about these materials is problematic, from their format, to the inconsistent way in which they are titled, to their relationship to one another and to other resources.  Clearly, the two portfolios are related. But are they, in bibliographical terms, two instances of the ‘same’ resource?

Here is what is revealed with a little bit of digging. Early in the twentieth century, three loan exhibitions of portraits of English sitters were held in Oxford’s Examination Schools:

  • In 1904, the exhibition focused on sitters who had died before 1625.
  • In 1905, the exhibition focused on sitters who had died between 1625 and 1714.
  • In 1906, the exhibition focused on sitters who had died between 1714 and 1837.

 

 

Printed catalogues were published for each exhibition, in both a large, illustrated issue, and in a smaller issue illustrated only with a frontispiece.  (It is difficult to determine, without consulting the various copies around Oxford, but it appears that the smaller issue was presented as a second edition of the larger).  In addition, a number of the portraits were photographed during the second and third exhibitions, and small portfolios of these photographs were sold as ‘unofficial supplements’ to the printed catalogues; see some examples, below. (The Sackler Library holds copies of all three illustrated catalogues, the unillustrated 1904 catalogue, and both of the photographic supplements).

 

 

So the most straightforward possibility is that eight publications (large-format illustrated issue catalogues for each of three exhibitions, small-format unillustrated issue catalogue for each of three exhibitions, portfolios of photographic reproductions for the latter two exhibitions) exist. SOLO, however, lists sixteen different bibs. (including the last, the bibliographic record which initiated this blog post):

  1. Represents the illustrated catalogues from all three exhibitions on a single record (eight holding libraries within Oxford, including Sackler)
  2. Represents the illustrated catalogue from 1904 only (ten holding libraries)
  3. Represents the small-format catalogue from 1904 only (two holding libraries, including Sackler)
  4. Appears to duplicate no. 3 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  5. Represents the illustrated catalogue from 1905 only (seven holdings libraries)
  6. Appears to duplicate no. 5 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  7. Represents the small-format catalogue – described in the bib. as the ‘second, revised edition’ – from 1905 only (six holding libraries)
  8. Appears to duplicate no. 7 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  9. Represents the illustrated catalogue from 1906 only (seven holding libraries)
  10. Represents the small-format catalogue from 1906 only (four holdings libraries)
  11. Appears to duplicate no. 10 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  12. Appears to duplicate no. 10 above, evidently unenhanced from an original printed catalogue record (Bodleian holding only)
  13. A bit of a puzzle: the title suggests that it duplicates no. 10 above, while its stated size suggests that it duplicates no. 9 above (Bodleian holding only)
  14. Represents the photographic supplement to the 1905 exhibition (three holding libraries)
  15. Another puzzle: Represents either both photographic supplements, or only the 1906 exhibition (Bodleian holding only)
  16. Attempts to represent the photographic supplement to both the 1905 and 1906 exhibitions, but under the cover title for the later supplement (three holdings, including Sackler)

Are you still with us?  The broad point is that the sheer weight of duplication, coupled with the ambiguity engendered by inadequate records derived from early printed catalogues (such as the Bodleian’s), actively hinders the researcher seeking to locate and access a specific catalogue.

 

 

But the Sackler Library is our immediate concern. Record 1. is a solid overall record, but it does have problems.  First, nowhere in the bib. is the exact title of any of the three catalogues transcribed verbatim, even though the MARC (‘Machine Readable Cataloging’) standard allows the opportunity to do so.  Second, while collecting multiple physical pieces under a cursory ‘3 v.’ (as done here) was common practice until quite recently, it does obscure the textual and illustrative extent of each piece.  And third, some aspects of its ‘subject analysis’, the parts of the bib. that describe the intellectual content of a resource, rather than its physical form, are either incorrect, or unduly vague.

More alarming, however, is record 16, which first brought the situation to our attention.  The cataloguer began with a bib. for the later supplement, borrowed from the library at the Getty Research Institute.[v]  But s/he then attempted to accommodate both of Sackler’s photographic supplements on this single record, an attempt that, without fundamental revision, was doomed (doomed!) from the outset.  (To base a record for a ‘continuing resource’ — or series — on a later issue rather than on the earlier is, in technical cataloguing parlance, ‘naughty’).  And in any case, should the two supplements in fact be considered as two instances of a single resource?  Are they more closely related to each other, than to the exhibition catalogue that each ‘supplements’?  In intellectual terms, the decision to combine both on a single bib. is dubious; in practical terms, it effectively obscures that Sackler holds the earlier supplement from any researcher not aware of its title (although the bib. does provide this, redundantly, three times).  There are additional problems with the record, including another occurrence of an unhelpfully vague statement of physical extent (‘2 portfolios’); subject analysis inherited from Getty that is sufficiently far from correct practice to inhibit collocation with other similar resources; errors in coding variant title information; a simple typo, stating that the earlier portfolio contains thirty, rather than thirty-nine individual photographs…

 

 

This record ticks a lot of wrong boxes.

So what should have happened?

  • In the first instance, the two supplements should have been catalogued separately.  They do not form a series (a ‘continuing resource’ in current Cataloguerspeak).
  • Cataloguing rules afford good ways to collocate related resources.  It is possible to establish each exhibition as a distinct entity (MARC X11) and to use these entities to connect all works related to that exhibition.  Further, standards allow us to point between the catalogues and their photographic supplements (MARC 740).
  • Subject cataloguing will always be inconsistent, at least until Skynet takes over.  But context is important.  A cataloguer cannot help but be influenced by the records s/he has recently worked on; by the same token, it’s worth quickly checking for usage already present in the catalogue as a whole, in order to improve consistency within the bibliographic file and to avoid introducing new errors.
  • Ideally, a cataloguer would have noticed the proliferation of bibs. and contacted the Bodleian’s Database Maintenance team.  They’re very helpful, and very good at sorting these things out: we’re all in this together, comrades!

Now, this is an isolated record, and we don’t know the circumstances that led to its errors.  And, to be fair, it was not a simple knot to unpick.  In contrast, most records in the sample are about adequate for retrieval.  The concern is that even when bibs. abstain from any single mortal sin, unforgivably odious in the eyes of the Cataloguing Gods, many nevertheless evince accretions of minor peccadilloes that, collectively, place them in a parlous state.

So, next time SOLO reveals the exact resource that you sought, remember that it was the combined knowledge and judgement exercised by library cataloguers that thwarted the powers of entropy and enabled this discovery.

Joseph Ripp
Special Collections Cataloguing Consultant, Sackler Library

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

Notes:

[i] Want to be effortlessly cool like a library cataloguer? Refer to a catalogue bibliographic record as a “bib.”

[ii] For readers whose FRBR2a is rusty, the catalogue should enable the reader to: “Find > Identify > Select > Obtain” resources.

2a “Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records”: do please try to keep up…

[iii] As measurable by the international standard of T minus coffee/T minus quitting time/T minus holiday/T minus the gentle slide into a well-earned and indefinite rest in the Home for Former Cataloguers and Otherwise Punchdrunk Precisians.

[iv] Not entirely speculative: the less-than-ideal state of conservation of these portfolios suggests that they might have lingered in a corner or beneath an ever-replenishing pile of books for some time until fished out, catalogued and hastily stuffed into an ill-fitting box “to get them out of our lives forever.” (They are now somewhat more adequately housed.)

[v] The existence of tools that facilitate sharing bibs. is one of the great strengths of the international library community.

Sackler 101: Sunday Opening… Part II

 

“At 12:00 noon on 14 January 2018, the beginning of Hilary Term, the Sackler Library opened on a Sunday for the first time. Planned as a soft launch, and despite minimal advertising, by the time the Library closed at 18:00 the reader count had reached fifty-five and the Sackler [which had already established itself as the University library with the longest year-round, staffed opening hours, had increased this number to 78 hours per week]”:

M-F         09:00-22:00
Sat          11:00-18:00
Sun         12:00-18:00

This is how Sackler Operations Manager Frank Egerton opened last year’s blog post about the new Sunday opening hours at the Sackler Library. It was clear that both Saturdays and Sundays are very popular with readers. Over the last year, we have continued to gather reader counts for Saturdays and Sundays both via gate entry data and at set times during weekend shifts. We also still receive positive feedback from readers about our year round, 7 day a week opening hours.

Here are some fun facts about our Saturday and Sunday opening hours. We looked at our weekend reader numbers for Hilary Term 2018 and compared them with those for the same period in 2019. As you can see, the number of weekend readers has gone up in Hilary Term 2019.

Sunday opening is still a success after one year! Sunday opening was initially presented to readers as a two-year trial. Given its continuing success, it seems very unlikely that these extended hours will be discontinued after the trial period ends.

Chantal van den Berg
Library Assistant
and
Frank Egerton
Operations Manager

 

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

 

Sackler 101: How to Get a Workout

Shelving at the Sackler Library

The Sackler is a busy lending library for several disciplines, and many books are borrowed and returned each day.  Our dedicated shelving team and other Reader Services staff members do an invaluable job at keeping on top of the stacks of books needing to be shelved every day.

During academic year 2017-2018, Sackler staff shelved over 175,000 books — more than half of the total number of books in the whole library.  This is a really impressive effort, and shows just how important shelving is to the successful operation of the library. Moreover, art/architecture/archaeology books are heavy.  Shelving 175,000 Sackler Library books entails a great deal of strenuous lifting.  Who needs a workout?

The pie chart (below) breaks down those 175,000 books.  Most books needing to be shelved were on the ground floor and 1st floor, followed by the lower ground floor, then the 2nd and 3rd floors.  The ground and 1st floors house monographs and journals on Classics and Classical Archaeology, Ancient History, Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Egyptology.  The 2nd and 3rd Floors house the Western and Eastern Art collections, supporting the research, study and teaching needs of a more wide-ranging readership, but fewer in numbers — hence the lower shelving figures.

As expected, we do more shelving during term time than during the vacation, and shelving has been more or less the same each term, with a slight reduction for Trinity term, when exams are held (and fewer books are needed for essay preparation, etc.).

Image created by Grace Brown

We asked Library Assistant Heidi Macaulay to comment on the past year’s changes in the Sackler Library’s shelving procedures:

“The past academic year at Sackler saw much restructuring, part of which resulted in an improvement in the library’s shelving situation.  New weekend opening hours resulted in more Library Assistants joining the Reader Services staff team, and most Library Assistants now have daily shelving responsibilities.  The net effect is that there are many more hours spent shelving each week.

Procedurally, shelving is now standardised across all floors as a system.  Book-trolleys for shelving, labelled with shelf marks, have also been standardised and on every floor they are located on the south side of each reading room.  (The exception is the ground floor, where they remain located near their respective stacks and keep exit routes clear in case of fire.) This standardisation makes it much easier for readers and staff to locate items which have been consulted in-house and are waiting to be shelved.

Such changes also make it much easier to determine where exactly any given Reading Room book is located:  On the correct shelf; waiting to be loaned to a borrower; held at a reservation point; forming part of the daily morning desk sweep for each floor (these books transfer immediately to the appropriate re-shelving book-trolleys for each floor); or on the book returns trolleys near the ground floor Help & Circulation Desk. 

Having additional Reader Services staff engaged in shelving also enables us to carry out more consistent work on book conservation/cleaning, missing book searches and shelf tidying and locating any missing books.  (If a book remains missing,  its status on SOLO will be updated to reflect this.)

As further added value, these changes bring an increased presence of Library Assistants to the Reading Rooms.  While there, they can help with readers’ queries (eg, finding books!) at point of need and also help ensure that the reading rooms remain calm working environments.  All the while shelving methodically on all  floors throughout the day.

All of these changes combine to further enhance readers’ experience in effectively locating and using the books they need.”

So the next time you wonder…

 

Chantal van den Berg, Grace Brown and Heidi Macaulay, Members of the Sackler Library’s Reader Services staff team

We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers.
Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (clare.hills-nova@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and Chantal van den Berg (chantal.vandenberg@bodleian.ox.ac.uk) if you would like propose a topic.

Sackler 101: Caring for our books

It may come as no surprise that ‘out with the old and in with the new’ doesn’t apply at the Sackler Library. Contrasting with our previous blog post about the New Books Display, this piece will shed light on how we look after some of the Sackler’s open-shelf collections.

As a busy research library catering to a variety of academic disciplines, it is understandable that some books may be older than others and hence more likely to suffer from wear and tear. The frequent or incorrect use of certain volumes also increases the likelihood of damage, the effects of which can manifest as broken head caps and torn pages. Cracked spines may also result from books being ‘crushed’ open on PCAS machines. To prevent such occurrences, and to protect our material for the future, the Sackler supports established procedures for the safe handling of books. Additionally, a suitable alternative for scanning fragile or oversized items has been made available to all readers. Located on the second floor, our high-resolution overhead scanner allows users to make detailed scans without having to flatten books to an excessive degree.

 

Books with broken head caps.

 

Acknowledging the paucity of available space for new acquisitions, staff at the Sackler are also involved in a ‘Space Creation Project’. One of the project’s aims is to ensure our collections continue to be housed appropriately and don’t become too tightly packed together. This will help minimise the risk of avoidable deterioration like ripped spine covers, which all too readily result from an over-zealous bid to extricate a squashed book.

When readers or staff members do identify a book as in need of attention it is temporarily removed from the shelves. This development is duly reflected on the online catalogue (SOLO) which displays a ‘sent for repair’ message below the entry in question. In certain cases a quick fix isn’t an option, so each month we earmark a certain number of volumes to be sent away to a commercial bindery. Here, our books are rebound by a specialist contractor who ensures they come back to the library looking as good as new. We make the most of this important service by selecting some of our high-circulating paperback titles to be rebound as well. Converting student staples to hardback is something we are very keen to do; it increases the shelf-life of books on reading lists and helps us to provide our readers with the publications they need, throughout the year.

 

A selection of rebound titles.

 

Information and statistics on the rebinding process.

 

The timely replacement of important core texts is another key aspect in our mission to partner readers with resources. During the routine maintenance and tidying of shelves, Reader-Services staff identify any items that may have fallen into disrepair and liaise with Subject Librarians to ensure a suitable alternative is made available. A recent result of this process has been the arrival of some shiny new copies of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, intended to augment the reference material available to Classicists ahead of the upcoming Michaelmas term.

 

The steps we take to preserve our collections are not just remedial and staff work concurrently behind the scenes to assist in preventative conservation projects like book cleaning. This process centres around the use of a conservation-grade vacuum cleaner with a fine-brush adaptor. With the correct technique this machine lifts dust from the covers and text-block of a book whilst minimising the risk of damage. Book cleaning also provides an opportunity to check for pests or mould, and should this yield any concerning results, the Bodleian Conservation team are on-hand to provide appropriate support.

 

Book cleaning in progress.

 

Typically, cleaning is done in blocks of no more than two hours to reduce manual handling, so don’t fret if you discover that the item you’re looking for is receiving some TLC ­- it’ll be back on the shelves before you know it!

Ross Jones
Library Assistant

Sackler 101: Offsite deliveries

 

If there is one thing that libraries in Oxford are always short of, it’s space. The Bodleian Libraries receive around 1,000 new items per working day and now hold more than 13 million in total. This means ever more publications are vying for limited space on open-access shelves at individual libraries such as the Sackler.

Over the years, the Bodleian Libraries relieved some of this pressure by storing books in a variety of places. These ranged from below ground in the centre of Oxford itself, to offsite facilities at Nuneham Courtenay (5 miles outside Oxford) and even a disused salt mine in Cheshire. These were replaced by a new large-scale Book Storage Facility (BSF), which opened in 2010 after a three-year build and the Bodleian’s biggest ever book move, which you can read more about here.

Situated on the outskirts of Swindon, the BSF is designed to house and conserve less-frequently-used items, while making them available to Bodleian Libraries’ readers on request. As a trainee on the Bodleian Libraries Graduate Trainee programme, I visited the BSF earlier in the year. This was a fantastic experience that really helped me appreciate the logistics involved and see how the Sackler Reader Services team fitted into the bigger picture.

 

The scale of the storage shelves at the BSF.

 

When you enter the main storage area at the BSF, the scale of it strikes you immediately. The building itself is huge, resembling an aircraft hangar from the outside. Inside, the shelving units are 11.4m tall in aisles 71m long, making a total of 230km of shelving. Every book or item is stored with others of the same dimensions, so they fit into archive-standard boxes that look like long magazine files. Every shelf, box and individual item has its own barcode so items can be tracked.

 

Each shelf, box and book is barcoded.

 

The BSF’s computer system is vital to the logistics of books entering and leaving the facility without being ‘lost’. The system logs book requests that Bodleian readers place via SOLO and calculates the most efficient order for ‘picking’ the requested items on any given day. The BSF staff work through the list in order, fetching the books and scanning each one with a handheld device as they go. They do this using machinery that is part forklift truck and part cherry-picker, which can move down the aisles swiftly (but safely) and enable staff to reach the top of the high shelves.

 

The machinery used to access the highest shelves.

 

Once all the books have been fetched, BSF staff sort them according to which library they have been requested to arrive at, such as the Sackler. Staff put into each book a computer-generated white slip identifying the destination library and reader, and pack them into blue crates. A dedicated Bodleian delivery team then delivers them by van.

The BSF deliveries are an important part of the work done by Reader Services staff at the Sackler, with two deliveries coming in each day. Each delivery consists of multiple crates (with ten or more crates during peak demand in term time). While still helping readers with circulation and enquiries, staff at the desk make it a priority to process the delivery efficiently to help readers have access to their requested books as soon as possible.

To do this, we unpack the crates and scan each book in before putting it on the reservation shelves behind the desk ready for collection. We also add a friendly green slip reminding readers that the books must be returned to the desk when not being consulted.

 

Unpacking the delivery crates.

 

As with normal loans, each book has a due date for return to the BSF. The BSF computer software generates a list of due books and sends it to us every morning. We take each book on the list off the reservation shelves, scan it using the computer again, take out the green slip to be reused, and then pack all the books into crates to be collected by the delivery team and driven back to the BSF.

 

 

Art, archaeology and architecture books — the primary areas of study at the Sackler — are notoriously heavy. As a result, our deliveries are consistently heavier than other libraries’ and are a serious manual handling issue. Tuesday mornings are when we receive the longest lists of books to return to the BSF. On one term-time Tuesday morning, I counted and weighed the books we returned to the BSF so we could get a snapshot of the kind of materials people are ordering to our reading room. That morning, we sent back 58 items which weighed 38.57kg in total (meaning the average weight was 0.65kg), with the heaviest weighing 2.48kg and the lightest, a small pamphlet, just 0.01kg. As for the books coming in, our highest number of crates to reach us in one afternoon’s delivery was fourteen.

The BSF delivery system makes available for readers a huge variety of items, and it is always fascinating to see what has been ordered. While many of the items are directly related to the subjects covered by the Sackler’s open-shelf collections, some items are on more unexpected or intriguing topics, as demonstrated by the images in this post.

 

 

 

The deliveries are a great daily reminder that readers are working on cutting-edge research topics, and using the Sackler Library as a preferred working space – not just a place where books happen to be housed. For me as a trainee, it also reinforces the idea that a vital aspect of librarianship is enabling and extending people’s access to the resources they need.

Emily Pulsford
Graduate Trainee Librarian

Sackler 101: The New Books Display

Here at the Sackler Library, we really love new books. And we see plenty of them! Not only are they an essential part of the library, they also look fantastic, so we like to show them off. In the last six months, we added over 1,400 (hard copy) new books to the Sackler’s collections, and we have displayed them all, on rotation, on our New Books Display.

We think it’s important to display all the new monographs we receive, because they’re such essential research tools for Sackler readers. Each month, we post online New Acquisitions lists, but many of our readers like to browse the incoming materials physically. Much of our intake contains the latest research relating to the many subjects collected by the Sackler, which is something our readers find invaluable in keeping up to date with recent publications in their fields and emerging areas of research interest. Each week, the New Books Display offers a new snapshot of the collections on offer in the library.

The New Books Display is located on the Ground Floor, spread across two bookcases. Since September last year, all new books received by the library have been displayed together near the entrance to the Library, which makes it easier for our readers with interdisciplinary interests to gauge the range of acquisitions. Books destined for the Sackler’s lower three floors (Lower Ground Floor, Ground Floor and Floor 1) – Archaeology, Classics & Ancient History, Numismatics, and Egyptology & Ancient Near Eastern Studies – are displayed on the left-hand bookcase. Books for Floor 2 and Floor 3 – Western Art & Architecture (medieval to modern) and Eastern Archaeology, Art & Architecture – feature on the right-hand bookcase. We give all the books on display a special ‘New Books Display’ status so that when you search for them on SOLO you know where to find them.

You may notice the brightly-coloured slips inside the books on the Display, with a colour-coded week number. This is a four-week system Reader Services staff use to keep track of which books have arrived each week, so that when a book has been on the Display for four weeks, it is taken off to join the main collections on the open shelves. There is a coloured flippable sign accompanying the Display which tells readers the current week – so books with that coloured flag are the most recent to have arrived.

The New Books Display is one of the final stages in a newly-acquired monograph’s journey to the Sackler’s shelves. It begins with our four Subject Librarians, specialists in their fields, who decide which new books should be acquired. They make these decisions based on their knowledge of the subject, their familiarity with relevant courses offered within the university, their understanding of readers’ areas of research, study and teaching, and also reader recommendations.

Next, subject librarians’ orders are received by Acquisitions staff, who place the orders with selected vendors and create a minimal record for each title (researchers can use SOLO to find out whether a publication has been ordered). When books arrive from booksellers they are passed to Cataloguing staff who create the full bibliographic records you see on SOLO. The books are delivered to the Sackler Library, and Reader Services staff transfer them to the New Books Display. Lots of work goes on behind the scenes to make sure we’ve got the books that are needed by our readers, and it’s one of the most important jobs we do.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the numbers of new books we receive…

They certainly keep us very busy!

Grace Brown, Senior Library Assistant for Reader Services

Sackler 101: Sunday Opening . . .

 

. . . Research and Study in the Sackler Library on Sundays!

 

 

 

New Sunday opening hours, 2018

 

One of the aims of the Sackler Library’s blog is to provide insights into behind-the-scene activities that enable readers to conduct Sackler-based research and study throughout the year. This, our first contribution to the Sackler 101 series, discusses the introduction of Sunday opening, tells how it came about, and reports on reader response.

At 12:00 noon on 14 January 2018, the beginning of Hilary Term, the Sackler opened on a Sunday for the first time. Planned as a soft launch, and despite minimal advertising, by the time the Library closed at 18:00 the reader count had reached fifty-five and the Sackler had established itself as the University library with the longest year-round, staffed opening hours:

M-F         09:00-22:00
Sat          11:00-18:00
Sun         12:00-18:00

Within seconds of circulating to various student groups the announcement about Sunday opening, we received email responses such as the following:

“THIS IS BRILLIANT!!! The best news to arrive in my inbox yet! Thank you soooo much!”
“Now might be a good time to reiterate how grateful I am to you all for [. . .] actively working to improve it and extend its opening hours!”

Other comments arrived via our Twitter account — for example:

“Sackler Library opening 12-6 on a Sunday is life-changing.”

Once the inevitable concerns about the new initiative had been dispelled, one almost forgot that this was anything other than business as (weekend) usual – with a similar range of library services on offer as on Saturdays.

Although library operations ran smoothly that first day, Sunday opening at the Sackler had been several years in the making and not without challenges. Given that many colleges have provided 24/7 library access for years, it may seem puzzling that the Bodleian Libraries didn’t have longer opening hours more generally. (Indeed, the demand for Sackler Sunday opening dated back a decade or more.) But, then, access to college libraries is relatively easy to manage and regulate, even when there are no staff present. Spaces are smaller and are familiar to their readers (college members only). By contrast, the Bodleian Libraries estate is made up of some extremely complex buildings and collections, accessible to University-based readers and many others too, and thus it is more difficult for readers to navigate their complicated structures unaided.

So what changed?

The results of a Bodleian Libraries Reader Survey in 2012, together with various smaller consultations around the same time, made it clear that one of undergraduates’ and graduate students’ most pressing needs was increased opening hours. Subsequent financial pressure caused any plans to be shelved at that time. By 2017, however, a further Reader Survey made it clear that the need still existed and resulted in a key aim of the Bodleian Libraries Strategy 2017-2022: ‘We will improve access to highly used hub libraries by increasing opening hours to better reflect user requirements, focusing especially on weekend and vacation hours.’ (Key strategic goal 3: Access, engagement and outreach.) It was obvious that the Sackler, with its already generous year-round opening hours, its wide-ranging collections addressing the research, study and teaching needs of multiple departments and faculties, was a natural candidate for extended opening. We decided, therefore, to introduce Sunday opening asap, and that it would run, initially, on a two-year trial basis.

In order to make Sunday opening a reality at the Sackler, a number of mechanisms needed to be in place. The library’s entry and alarm system had to be reprogrammed, web pages and other signage updated, departments notified. In parallel, new job descriptions were needed, and additional library assistants had to be recruited and trained. As on Saturdays, the Sunday Reader Services staff provide basic assistance to readers (more complex queries are referred to specialist staff), carry out reshelving and stock maintenance, and are also engaged in project work.

Since Sunday opening began, word has spread and the number of readers using the library has increased week-on-week. Within one month of opening, the Sunday reader count already stood at 135. Reader numbers for the corresponding Saturdays, moreover, do not appear to have been significantly affected. Inevitably, vacation figures have been lower, but still not that far below 100.  

Judging by its current success, it seems unlikely that Sunday opening will end after the two-year trial.

Frank Egerton
Operations Manager