Like @ Sac! My year as Graduate Trainee Librarian (2017-18)

 

Every year, the Bodleian Libraries takes on around 10 graduates as part of its Library Graduate Trainee Scheme. The scheme provides training and work experience in an academic library setting for those considering a career in libraries or the information-related sector, often with a view to studying a relevant postgraduate qualification. Each trainee is based in one of the Bodleian Libraries for day-to-day work, and attends a weekly training session with the other trainees. The training sessions vary from specific job-related training courses, career talks, or visits to other Bodleian departments or Oxford libraries. There is even a day-trip to London to expand our horizons and escape the Oxford bubble.

The Sackler Library is one of the Bodleian Libraries that hosts a trainee every year, and for the academic year 2017-18, I was lucky enough to be that person! Now that my time here is coming to an end, I wanted to reflect on my year and how the role of the trainee fits into the wider work of the library.

Graduate Trainee Emily Pulsford on shift at the Help Desk scanning in a returned book

 

Right from the start, I have been part of the Reader Services team, gradually becoming fully integrated into this important aspect of Sackler work and life. This has meant spending at least a couple of hours every day helping readers to: borrow and return books; locate books in the library; use other library services such as the PCs and scanners; and generally answer any queries. Desk work also involves processing daily deliveries from the offsite storage facility, and sending back books that are due to be returned there. This setup has been an extremely useful way for me to gain essential library experience. Through it, I have come to understand what it is that Oxford library users want and need, and the challenges of trying to meet varying needs, all of which is useful food for thought for future job roles. As desk duty is always done in pairs, it has also proved an invaluable opportunity to learn from supportive, experienced colleagues.

Over the course of the year, I have helped develop the trainee role (read: be a guinea pig) by shaping regular trainee responsibilities — such as co-ordinating reading list checking and inter-library loans. These tasks have solidified the trainee role by adding to the long-standing trainee task of dealing with the many books, auction catalogues and exhibition catalogues donated via Ashmolean Museum curatorial staff so they can be added to the collections. Even after nearly a year of weekly collections, I still feel a little thrill when going through the Sackler-Ashmolean ‘magic portal’ door to the museum!

One major part of the trainee scheme is the chance to work on a project and present it at the end of the year to the other trainees, supervisors and any other curious Bodleian well-wishers. The trainee project exemplifies how a successful traineeship is mutually beneficial in that the project work is useful to the trainee in terms of gaining experience and skills, and useful to the library in terms of making progress on projects and schemes that haven’t quite made it to fruition in the past.

My trainee project involved re-establishing the Sackler Library’s social media presence on Facebook and Twitter, and setting up a blog for the library.  I have been working on the blog steadily from partway through Michaelmas Term 2017, and we launched with two posts marking LGBT History month (to read, click here and here).  It was a fantastic way for me to get to grips with the fascinating collections in the library and to think about how libraries communicate with their users about new services and important behind-the-scenes work, such as processing new books and conservation.

Graduate Trainee Emily Pulsford and Senior Library Assistant Grace Brown in an image used for the Bodleian Twitter Takeover

 

 

During the year, there have been several new service innovations to promote on the blog and social media, such as Sunday opening hours, the New Books Display, a self-issue machine and height-adjustable desks, all of which make a big difference to readers’ experience of the library.  It has also been great for me to see change first-hand and understand the importance of updating library services to reflect changing reader needs.

The blog also generated unexpected side projects such as book displays in the library.  I have enjoyed the process of selecting books on a broad topic, such as International Women’s Day, arranging the physical display, designing the poster and writing a blog post to act as ‘exhibition notes’ as well as a more permanent record of the display (which was itself temporary). Earlier in the summer, we used the display format as an opportunity to bring together staff member’s favourite publications from the Sackler’s collections.  The response was even more personal and eye-opening than I had hoped, and the display piqued the interest of staff and readers alike.

 

 

 

 

The book display for International Women’s Day
A 360 degree image of the Sackler Library lobby

 

Producing content for the social media accounts also drew on my creativity and previous experience with photography. I used the Radcliffe Science Library’s borrowable 360 degrees camera and VR equipment to take more interesting shots of the library, which was a very enjoyable part of my overall project work.

Another highlight came in July 2018, when the Sackler welcomed A-level students on the University’s Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies UNIQ outreach programme’s summer school. The taster academic sessions were run by colleagues in the Griffith Institute, but I had the chance to run a session introducing the Sackler Library and showing off our extensive Special Collections for these subject areas.

All in all, I have had a wonderful year where I have learned a lot (there’s always something new and exciting to uncover in the Sackler’s collections), worked with a great team and I hope set up projects and tasks that will carry on in the future.  There will always be plenty for new trainees to get involved with and shape their roles, and I wish the incoming trainee good luck as he embarks on his year at the Sackler.

 

 

The next step for me is an MA in Librarianship, which I am looking forward to starting this autumn.  I’ll miss working at the Sackler and I want to thank everybody who has helped make my time here special.

Emily Pulsford
Graduate Trainee Librarian (2017-18), Sackler Library

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

Like @ Sac! – Staff favourites book display

 

As Trinity term draws to a close and vacation begins, it is time for another book display in the Sackler Library. Previous book displays related to celebratory months and days (LGBT History Month and International Women’s Day), but this time I decided to try something different by asking library staff members to choose a favourite publication housed in the Sackler Library. This criterion was deliberately left broad so staff could choose any format of physical item (monograph, periodical issue, pamphlet, catalogue…) on any topic within the library. I also asked staff to write a few lines about why the book was important and/or special to them.

The response was fascinating, with several library staff members immediately presenting me with their favourite book and sharing the story behind their connection with it. In the end, I have been able to display books chosen by a range of staff members, including reader services staff, subject librarians, supervisors and even our operations manager. There was a variety of reasons why people chose the books they did, but a couple of common themes emerged: books that were crucial to academic studies, and books that reminded people of a place that was special to them.

As with previous book displays, part of the aim is to showcase different disciplines and areas of interest together in one place to spark interest and ideas in readers. The display is also a chance for readers to connect more with staff and to remember that we interact with and appreciate the collections here, too.

Below is a list of the chosen books, along with the words written about each one. The books themselves are now on the display, each one captioned by the words people wrote to go with them. Some of these captions have been expanded here to tell the fuller story, and one or two should appear as full Like @ Sac! posts on the blog in good time.

I have enjoyed hearing these stories, and I hope the readers will appreciate them, too, as they browse the display, which is located opposite the issue desk and will run for a few weeks.

 

Books on display:

Aeschylus, & Fraenkel, E., 1962. Agamemnon, Oxford.

“We are very lucky in the Sackler, as the set on the Lower Ground Floor was the one that belonged to Fraenkel himself. This gives our copy a unique connection to an important period in the history of Classics in Oxford. Eduard Fraenkel was a hugely influential figure: a refugee scholar (he lost his German university post as a result of the Nazi anti-Semitic laws in 1933) he was invited to Oxford, given an academic position, and later became Corpus Professor of Latin. He brought the German style of commentary on Classical authors to an English-speaking audience and his influence on Classical philology cannot be overstated.

His ‘Agamemnon’ seminar became legendary; including in its alumnae the novelist Iris Murdoch, who wrote a poem about her experience, ‘Agamemnon Class, 1939′. By all accounts Fraenkel was both inspirational and terrifying (sometimes simultaneously). Fraenkel’s insistence on close reading, line-by-line and word-by-word interpretation, and his philological approach to the text set the precedent for the teaching of Classical Literature in Oxford for rest of the century (and beyond).

Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, for me, is the most beautiful and emotional play that has survived from antiquity. As an undergraduate I fell in love with its unique use of language and metrical patterns. Fraenkel’s commentary, for all its rigorous scholarly dissection, illuminates the play brilliantly, and has provided generations of scholars a strong foundation from which to launch their own approach to the text.”

 

Barolsky, P., 2014. Ovid and the metamorphoses of modern art from Botticelli to Picasso, New Haven.

“The Latin epic poem Metamorphoses by Ovid has been a thread running through my studies (and interests) from school through to university final exams and beyond. Many of the stories told within the poem – Pygmalion, the fall of Icarus, Narcissus – are familiar to us today through various retellings in different media.

This book is an accessible overview of how Ovid’s work has influenced (Western) visual arts in particular, and it represents a cross-over between two of the Sackler’s subject areas: Classics and art history. I especially love the Pieter Bruegel painting Fall of Icarus (reproduced in colour on the endpapers of the book and explored in Part V), as it reminds me of a school lesson where I was introduced to the Metamorphoses alongside this painting and the W. H. Auden poem Musée des Beaux Arts. This book is also a delightful reminder of how Ovid’s playful tales have taken on a life of their own and inspired artworks that are fascinating in their own right too.”

 

Bayer, P., & Waller, M., 1988. The art of René Lalique, London.

“I haven’t been at the Sackler very long, but on my first day I noticed a book on René Lalique. Although I knew of Lalique, I had not seen any of his work in the flesh (so to speak) until I visited St Matthew’s Church (also known as The Glass Church) in Jersey. It’s a wonderful example of his work and pictures of the church are on pages 184 to 186 of this book. This has also led me to a very large catalogue for Lalique, and I am sure some time will be sent looking at this and admiring the beauty within.”

 

Berne-Joffroy, A., & Dufy, R., 1983. Zigzag parmi les personnages de la Fée electricité, Paris.

“For a Francophile and fan of the artists of the “Fauve” movement there is no shortage of books to choose from in the Sackler’s collections.

The “Fauve” artists’ use of brilliant colours, botanical themes, and paintings depicting bright Mediterranean seascapes glimpsed through open windows have always cheered and uplifted me since first discovering them during my undergraduate studies of French language and culture.

It is very hard to choose one book and even harder to select a single painting but this small monograph dedicated to Raoul Dufy’s Fée électricité is my choice. The book contains a foldout at the back where the painting is reproduced in colour.

This original is a work of art on an epic scale, measuring over 600 square metres. Painted in less than a year for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, it tells the story of electricity. Its towering rainbow-coloured panels depict both mythical interpretations and practical applications of electricity, incorporating 110 portraits of the scientists and inventors who contributed to its discovery.”

 

Carr, L., Dewhurst, R., & Henig, M., 2014. Binsey: Oxford’s holy place; its saint, village, and people, Oxford.

“During Oxbridge entrance I had to analyse Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘Binsey Poplars’. Although I knew the hamlet from walking the Thames path, it was several years before I discovered its gorgeous 12th century church tucked away along a lane not far from the ring road. It’s a magical place: a little piece of ancient countryside just outside the city. It’s also a place of legends and stories: St Frideswide; Catherine of Aragon visiting the holy well; Lewis Carroll and his Binsey treacle wells. In time I got married at Binsey. This book of essays about Binsey, its environs and history is beautiful and fascinating — a work of scholarly local history to treasure.”

 

Christie, Manson & Woods., 2004. A peaceable kingdom: the Leo Mildenberg collection of ancient animals, Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 October 2004, London.

“My favourite Sackler book is A peaceable kingdom: the Leo Mildenberg collection of ancient animals. It’s a 2004, London Christie’s Auction Catalogue. I first encountered it when Henry Kim, then at the Ashmolean’s Heberden Coin Room, said, “You’ve got to look at this!” He was right. This was at the very, very beginning of my DPhil, and though it was definitely going to be about animals in ancient Greece, I hadn’t yet decided if they would be snakes, or pigs (Boardman’s idea), or perhaps exclusively pets. At that point of indecision, and doubt about whether I was truly up to the job, this gorgeous catalogue gave me a bounce of delight that helped me into the next stage.

For 40 years Leo Mildenberg collected ancient Egyptian, Eastern, Greek and Roman animal representations. Many were already published, but this substantial catalogue offers Christie’s exquisite, high quality images for some of the choicest in Mildenberg’s collection. The pictures breathed fresh life into the objects, just before they disappeared again into secret, private, lucky hands.

During the writing of my thesis this ‘peaceable kingdom’ was a source of refreshment and supporting evidence, not only for study, but recreation too. A prancing cheetah on an Apulian red-figure plate (Lot 80) inspired an embroidered name tag, and the Mesopotamian leopard in limestone (Lot 153) was the focus of an intensive ‘lost wax’ silversmithing project. Both leopard and cheetah exemplify a charm and cheer that pervade the collection. They seem to reflect that of Mildenberg himself; delightfully pictured smiling throughout.

Back at the Sackler, my colleagues love these ancient beasts too, even down to the issues desk stationery. Among our many novelty items, we have an eraser in the form of a faïence hippo that’s very like one of Mildenberg’s. The eraser is actually after ‘William’, the Metropolitan Museum of Art example, but whenever I see it, I think ‘Mildenberg’, and, funnily enough, Mildenberg named his too. ‘Hubert’ (Lot 111).

I periodically run across A Peaceable Kingdom in the Sackler. It’s an old friend, and it gives me a sense of contentment and connection whenever I see it.”

 

Crouch, C., 2014. Contemporary Chinese visual culture: tradition, modernity, and globalization, Amherst.

“Having spent my formative years in China, I was drawn to this title during a routine shelving shift. A discerning look at modern China’s contemporary aesthetic, it is at once both accessible and informative. The editor, Christopher Crouch, accommodates for a Western readership by providing a related reading list of texts in English at the end of each chapter. His command of the subject shines through in his ability to deliver a book that, whilst boasting contributions from over twenty scholars, still exhibits a clear and cohesive progression of ideas.

In seeking to explain the juxtaposition between innovation and tradition in Chinese art and architecture, this assemblage of short studies, by numerous Chinese experts, is thorough in its examination. Its broad remit gives it licence to cover a variety subjects: from the significance of rocks in traditional Chinese gardens to the decline of avant-gardism in post-industrial societies. Not simply for art students, this book is an opportunity to escape Eurocentric narratives and gain insight into the visual legacy of Asia’s economic powerhouse. What’s not to love?!”

 

Euripides, & Conacher, D. J., 1988. Alcestis, Warminster.

“With its blend of tragic and satyric elements, Alcestis is one of my favourite Classical plays. This fourth play in Euripides’ tetralogy is the only “tragedy” with a happy ending. You can find in it several themes and features common in Euripides’ dramas, such as the limits of human life, but you can also read it as the story of a woman’s sacrifice for love, and of her devotion to her husband.”

 

Lister, R., & Palmer, S., 1988. Catalogue raisonné of the works of Samuel Palmer, Cambridge.

“It was difficult to choose just one favourite book in the Sackler’s collection. In the end I chose a catalogue raisonné of an artist whose etchings I enjoy collecting and which was instrumental to my research and future interest in collecting antiquarian and contemporary prints.

I previously worked in the Museum of Modern Art in New York having studied the History of Art. But when I came to the U.K. I became interested in the work of British visionary artists such as William Blake and Samuel Palmer. Palmer had been greatly influenced by Blake and I started to collect Palmer’s etchings. Therefore, I found the reference books at the Sackler, especially the catalogue raisonné by Raymond Lister, an invaluable guide in determining the various states or different impressions of Palmer’s work, particularly those of The Bellman and The Lonely Tower. These two etchings were used to illustrate Milton’s Il Penseroso and are among his greatest works in the medium harking back to his early inspired visionary period in Shoreham. These two images reflect his unique and Arcadian view of the English landscape and have a numinous quality that makes them particular favourites of mine. I owe much of my knowledge to this helpful guide.”

 

Lorenzetti, G., 1939. Torcello: la storia, i suoi monumenti, Venice.

“This book by Giulio Lorenzetti, printed in Venice in 1939, contains black and white pictures and a folded map of the Torcello estuary showing obscure places which are familiar to me. Being of Venetian origins, I feel a mixture of pride and nostalgia every time I encounter something related to the small island of Torcello.

From the Altino region on the mainland, the first “Veneti” were searching for a site where they would be safe from barbarian invasions. They chose Torcello surrounded by marshes which impeded enemies from reaching them by “terra o mare”, land or sea. This tiny island became the first Venetian settlement.

Today its fewer than 20 inhabitants can daily enjoy the beautiful landscape in which Hemingway holed up while writing. They have the privilege of living near the Basilica Santa Maria Assunta, first built in 639 A.D. and containing wonderful mosaics to be admired on the west wall and the main apse. Two carefully protected colour prints of those mosaics are to be found inside the guide.

Ancient storage facilities for the unloading and preservation of goods have been discovered on the island during archaeological work carried out in 2017, and continuing excavations are throwing new light on the early history of Torcello, which was the cradle of ‘the Serenissima’.

This simple 1939 guide inspires me to return to this tiny island which played an important role in early Venetian history before the seat of power moved to Rialto.”

 

Lucretius Carus, T., Rouse, W. H. D., & Smith, M. F., 1975. De rerum natura, Cambridge, Mass.

“I’ve chosen the Loeb edition of Lucretius as my favourite Sackler book. As an undergraduate, I studied Lucretius for a Mods paper and two Greats papers, so I spent rather a lot of time consulting this book!”

 

Petronius, A., & Walsh, P. G., 1995. The Satyricon, Oxford.

“The only preserved episode of this novel by Petronius was the lengthy scene of the dinner in Trimalchio’s house (Cena Trimalchionis).

Trimalchio was a former slave who paid to be set free. He became this eccentric wealthy (and tacky) rich person who had all sorts of shows and displays within his house. Unfortunately his taste was very bad and the extravagant demonstration of his wealth transformed him into a caricature. On another level he is compared to Nero, as Petronius was alleged to be living in Nero’s court. The novel is a parody of Nero and his extravaganza, a parody of low morale and wealth display without any substance. The automatons and the shows that Trimalchio opts to bring within that dinner resemble the automatons and the machinery that Nero was keen on using (see the ship which would break open in the ocean and drown his mother Agrippina). On another level the usage of automatons and machines was a common practice of tyrants. Trimalchio (and subsequently, Nero), become the tyrants.

This novel has set the foundations for all Western literature novels in the manner we know them now. The story of the Cena is actually a part of the adventures of Satyricon: Encolpius (the main narrator), Ascyltus (his lover) and Giton (Encolpius’s slave but a lover of both Encolpius and Ascyltus), are caricatures of the romance novel heroes. In the place of the traditional heterosexual couple who wonder across the seas in seeking their beloved ones, we have a homosexual couple plus their lover who go in adventures whilst seeking to find their beloved ones. It examines homosexual partnerships in a way that most literary pieces don’t.

Finally, the episode of Cena Trimalchionis inspired Fellini’s film Satyricon.”

 

Plato, & Rowe, C.J., 2012. Republic, London.

“I studied English at the University of Cambridge, but one of my favourite parts of the course was a paper in philosophy. Plato’s Republic – here translated by Christopher Rowe – is a fascinating insight into ethics, the concept of justice, and the ideal state. Plato likens the soul to a city, in having three parts: the appetitive element, the spirited element, and the reasoning element, which in turn can be found in the three types of people in a city. Ultimately, Plato decides, both the individual and the city must be ruled by reason in order to be just, but this conclusion has some uneasy implications for the largest part of the population.

I once wrote an essay about this text that tried to explain a problem of the state-soul analogy using my own analogy based on prawn sandwiches. This was probably a result of all-nighter-induced delirium on my part, but I have always enjoyed analogies: picking apart the similarities and discrepancies between two things, and using one to better understand the other. For this reason, and because it reminds me of engaging discussions with some very interesting people, I have chosen this work as my favourite book in the Sackler.”

 

Emily Pulsford
Graduate Trainee Librarian

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

 

 

Like @ Sac! – International Women’s Day 2018 Book Display

 

International Women’s Day is an event celebrated on 8th March every year that focuses attention on the efforts that have been made, are being made, and still need to be made, towards equality and women’s rights around the world. (See, in this regard, the New York Times’s Obituaries Overlooked series which includes, for example, photographer Diane Arbus and author Sylvia Plath.)

To coincide with International Women’s Day 2018, the Sackler’s Graduate Trainee has set up a book display in the library to showcase the work and contributions of women, past and present, in various areas of study covered by the library’s collections, including Egyptology, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Archaeology, History of Art and Architecture, and Classics.

 

 

Subtitled Celebrating Women Past and Present, the display’s broad theme comprises individual women and their creative and intellectual contributions to the above-mentioned fields of study, as well as to wider society through various avenues: archaeological excavations and reports; travel writing and journalism; scholarly publications; paintings, drawings and photographs; and architectural designs.

The display features women from a broad historical range, from the 14th-century-BCE Egyptian ruler Nefertiti to Renaissance artist Sofonisba Anguissola; nineteenth-century travellers and archaeologists; ground-breaking twentieth-century feminist art historians such as Linda Nochlin; and contemporary authors writing for both academic and popular audiences today.

 

 

While many of the publications on display are detailed biographies of individual women – for example, twentieth-century British archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon and Indian-born archaeologist, anthropologist, and folklorist Margaret Alice Murray – other publications bring together the work of several women active in a specific field. One such book is Women travellers in Egypt: from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, which makes an excellent springboard for further research on women who travelled to, and wrote detailed accounts of, Egypt in that period.

We have also highlighted publications by some pioneering twentieth-century art historians. Frequently described as a seminal work of feminist art history, the 1971 essay ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’, published in ARTnews by the late Linda Nochlin (1931-2017), has greatly influenced the development of subsequent generations of art historians. To read more about Nochlin’s life, one of her many obituaries from late 2017 can be found here.

Our art and architecture collections are represented by a range of international women artists, from the Singh twins, Amrit Kaur Singh and Rabindra Kaur Singh, to Yayoi Kusama, Käthe Kollwitz and Zaha Hadid. We hope readers enjoy exploring the life and works of these women. To find other publications on the topic search the subject phrase ‘women artists’ (or ‘women architects’) on SOLO.

Writers are represented firstly by Agatha Christie, who was often inspired by her travels in the Middle East (the artwork for Le crime de l’Orient-Express (2013) is by photographer Martin Parr). We have also included one of the best-known poets from Classical Antiquity — Sappho — whose complete works have recently been translated by Diane Raynor (2014). This publication highlights not only the creative endeavours of a woman writing in the 7th-6th century BCE, but also the scholarly (and creative) work of a modern female translator, showing how women can give voice to women across the ages. Sappho is currently featured by the Bodleian Libraries in the exhibition Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared (Weston Library), which opened during the week of International Women’s Day.

It was, of course, impossible to include in the Sackler’s compact display as many fascinating and interesting women as are represented in the collections. We hope, however, that readers enjoy (re)discovering those selected for this year’s display, and that our chosen works spark ideas for further exploration and reflection on this year’s International Women’s Day. To this end, this blog post includes below not only a display list of the publications, but also a further reading list of other items in our collections.

We welcome (and encourage) suggestions for future book displays.

Emily Pulsford
Graduate Trainee Librarian
Sackler Library

 

Display list

Beard, M., 2017. Women & power: a manifesto, London.

Davis, M. C., 2008. Dame Kathleen Kenyon: digging up the Holy Land, California.

Flavio, C., 1994. Sofonisba Anguissola e le sue sorelle, Italy.

Fraser, H., 2014. Women writing art history in the nineteenth century: looking like a woman, Cambridge.

Hadid, Z. & Jodidio, P., 2013. Hadid: Zaha Hadid complete works 1979-2013, Köln.

Hawes, H. B., 1901. Excavations at Kavousi, Crete.

Hawes, H. B., 1904-5. Gournia: report of the American Exploration Society’s excavations at Gournia, Crete, University of Pennsylvania.

Hughes, B., 2005. Helen of Troy: goddess, princess, whore, London.

Kaur Singh, A., Kaur Singh, R., Spalding, J., Pal, R. & Swallow, D., 1999. Twin perspectives: paintings, Great Britain.

Kollwitz, K. & Fischer, H., 1995. Käthe Kollwitz: Meisterwerke der Zeichnung, Köln.

Manley, D., 2013. Women travellers in Egypt: from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, Cairo.

Nagy, H., 2013. Elisabeth Jastrow (1890-1981), in Art Libraries Journal vol.38.no.4.

Nochlin, L., 1988. Women, art, and power: and other essays, New York.

Parker, R. & Pollock, G., 2013. Old mistresses: women, art and ideology, London.

Peuckert, S., 2014. Hedwig Fechheimer und die ägyptische Kunst: Leben und Werk einer jüdischen Kunstwissenshaftlerin in Deutschland, Berlin.

Rayor, D. J., Lardinois, A. P. M. H., 2014. Sappho: a new translation of the complete works, Cambridge.

Samson, J., 1985. Nefertiti and Cleopatra: queen-monarchs of Ancient Egypt, London.

Searight, S., 2005. Women travellers in the Near East, Oxford.

Sheppard, K. L., 2013. The life of Margaret Alice Murray: a woman’s work in archaeology, Plymouth.

Tripp, C. & Collins, P., 2017. Gertrude Bell and Iraq: a life and legacy, Oxford.

Trümpler, C., 2000. Agatha Christie und der Orient: Kriminalistik und Archäologie, Basel.

Wolf, S., Rose, P., Mancoff, D. N. & Cameron, J. M., 1998. Juliet Margaret Cameron’s women, London; New Haven.

Yayoi, K. & Francis, M., 2012. Yayoi Kusama, London.

 

Further reading

Bell, G. L. & Howell, G., 2015. A woman in Arabia: the writings of the Queen of the Desert, New York.

Chadwick, J., 2014. The decipherment of linear B, Cambridge.

Christie, A., Mendel, J-M. & Parr, M., 2013. Le crime de l’Orient-Express, Paris.

Clapp, N., 2001. Sheba: through the desert in search of the legendary queen, Boston.

Cooney, K., 2015. The woman who would be king, London.

Davies, N. M. & Davies, N. de Garis, 1963. Scenes from some Theban tombs: (nos. 38, 66, 162, with excerpts from 81), Oxford.

Fox, M., 2013. The riddle of the labyrinth: the quest to crack an ancient code and the uncovering of a lost civilisation, London.

Freuler, O., 2017. A tale of two sisters: Simone and Hélène de Beauvoir’s La Femme rompue. Taylor Institution Library blog. [accessed March 12, 2018].

Haikal, F. M. H., 1970-. Two hieratic funerary papyri of Nesmin, Brussels.

Hawes, H. B., 1967. A Land called Crete: a symposium in memory of Harriet Boyd Hawes, 1871-1945, Northampton, Mass.

Heartney, E., Posner, H., Princethal, N., Scott, S., Nochlin, L., 2013. After the revolution: women who transformed contemporary art, Munich.

Howard, J., 1990. Whisper of the muse: the world of Julia Margaret Cameron, London.

Kusama, Y., 2011. Infinity net: the autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London.

Kusche, M., 2003. Retratos y retratadores Alonso Sánchez Coello y sus competidores Sofonisba Anguissola, Jorge de la Rúa y Rolán Moys, Madrid.

Moon, B. E., 2006. More usefully employed: Amelia B. Edwards, writer, traveller and campaigner for ancient Egypt, London.

Murray, M. A., 1949. The splendour that was Egypt: a general survey of Egyptian culture and civilisation, London.

Murray, M. A., 1963. My first hundred years, London.

Nightingale, F., 1987. Letters from Egypt: a journey on the Nile 1849-1850, London.

Olsen, B. A., 2014. Women in Mycenaean Greece: the Linear B tablets from Pylos and Knossos, Abingdon.

Quibell, A. A., 1925. A wayfarer in Egypt, London.

Rees, J., 2008. Women on the Nile: writings of Harriet Martineau, Florence Nightingale and Amelia Edwards, London.

Thompson, C. E., Saggini, F. & Chaber, L., 2014. Women’s travel writings in North Africa and the Middle East, London.

Yamamura, M., 2015. Yayoi Kusama: inventing the singular, Cambridge, Mass.

Like @ Sac! – LGBT History Month Book Display

Starting in 2005, LGBT History Month has been celebrated in the UK each February.  For many in the LGBTQ community, it is a dedicated opportunity to reflect on and raise awareness of their history and heritage.  Here at the Sackler Library we marked the beginning of 2018’s LGBT History Month (and launch of the Sackler’s blog) with Helen Worrell’s  LIKE @ SAC! post focusing on R. B. Parkinson’s A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World, published by the British Museum in 2013 as part of the effort to increase access to LGBTQ-related objects in the museum’s collections.

To follow on from this post, and to continue marking LGBT History Month, Sackler Readers Services staff have put together a Sackler book display showing some of the LGBTQ-related works held by the library.  Entitled LGBT History Month at the Sackler, the display brings together, from across the Library, a selection of publications with an emphasis on the long history of LGBTQ people, communities and themes, and their representation through word and image.

The aims of the display are twofold. Firstly, we hope it will provide a chance for readers to encounter a theme they may not have explored in depth before and to reflect on LGBTQ representation in the library space, visual culture, and the wider world.  In addition, we hope to raise awareness of the diversity of the Sackler’s collections and how many different aspects of the collection can be read with, or against, each other in interesting or new ways.

As well as being visually striking, the items on display are intended to be picked up and read too.  Readers may wish to start with the National Trust’s book Prejudice & Pride: Celebrating LGBTQ heritage, as its inside cover features an introductory timeline of key moments in legal and literary LGBTQ history.

From there, the display can be explored chronologically through books on, for example, homosexuality and society in the ancient and medieval worlds.  Alternatively, the display can be read thematically, as it showcases many different aspects of LGBTQ life past and present, such as desire, censorship and misunderstanding.

Anyone looking for a broad overview of the LGBTQ theme in the visual arts can turn to Gay and Lesbian Studies in Art History.  There are also books on Renaissance artists Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, and how they and their works have been interpreted over time, as well as publications on 20th century American artists such as Charles Demuth, Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe.

LGBTQ responses to and influences on architecture and shared spaces, such as library space, are also represented in the display, for example through the article “Locating the Library as Place among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer Patrons” by Paulette Rothbauer, open on the table and ready to read.  This also serves as a reminder that many journal articles and book chapters explore LGBTQ themes in the visual arts and can be found using SOLO or other bibliographic databases such as Art Full Text (accessible via SOLO or OxLip+).

We hope LGBT History Month at the Sackler highlights a new way of thinking about and engaging with our collections, by a broad theme rather than narrow historical period, school of art, or medium.  Look for the display opposite the Ground Floor Circulation Desk, next to the Self-Issue Machine, in the perfect place for readers to stop by on their way in or out of the library.  The display itself will run until the end of LGBT History Month, but the list of books on display will remain accessible after that via this blog post.

We welcome (and encourage) suggestions for future book displays.

Emily Pulsford
Graduate Trainee Librarian

 

 

Display list

Betsky, A., 1997. Queer space: architecture and same-sex desire, New York.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_SAC:oxfaleph019674379

Boehringer, S., 2007. L’homosexualité féminine dans l’antiquité grecque et romaine, Paris.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_SAC:oxfaleph016700344

Cook, M. & Oram, A., 2017. Prejudice & pride: celebrating LGBTQ heritage, Warrington.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph020910720

Davidson, J. N., 2007. The Greeks and Greek love: a radical reappraisal of homosexuality in ancient Greece, London
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_SAC:oxfaleph016623527

Davis, W., 1994. Gay and lesbian studies in art history, New York.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph015740412

Dover, K. J., 1978. Greek homosexuality, London.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_SAC:oxfaleph010565045

Parkinson, R. B., 2103. A little gay history: desire and diversity across the world, London.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_SAC:oxfaleph019522970

Mapplethorpe, R., Martineau, P., & Salvesen, B., 2016. Robert Mapplethorpe: the photographs, Los Angeles.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph020537898

Mapplethorpe, R., Terpak, F., Brunnick, M., Smith, P., & Weinberg, J., 2016. Robert Mapplethorpe: the archive, Los Angeles.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph020537892

Meyer, R., 2003. Outlaw representation: censorship & homosexuality in twentieth-century American art, Boston.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_SAC:oxfaleph020571046

Mills, R., 2015. Seeing sodomy in the Middle Ages, Chicago.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_SAC:oxfaleph020291118

Rorato, L., 2014. Caravaggio in film and literature: popular culture’s appropriation of a baroque genius, London.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph019880867

Rothbauer, P. Locating the library as place among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer patrons, in eds. Buschman, J., & Leckie, G. J., 2007. The library as place: history, community, and culture, Westport; London.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph019522823

Spike, J. T., Brown, D. A., Joannides, P., De Groft, A. H., Rogers, M., & Bisogniero, C., 2015. Leonardo da Vinci and the idea of  beauty, Williamsburg, Virginia.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph020476396

Warhol, A., Feldman, F., & Defendi, C., 2003Andy Warhol prints: a catalogue raisonné: 1962-1987, New York.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph016253846

Weinberg, J., 1993. Speaking for vice: homosexuality in the art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the first American avant-garde, New Haven; London.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph010922447

Weinberg, J., 2004. Male desire: the homoerotic in American art, New York.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph015980569

Williams, C. A., 1999. Roman homosexuality: ideologies of masculinity in classical antiquity, New York; Oxford.
http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph013573773

 

Like @ Sac! – A Little Gay History

Welcome to the Sackler Library blog!

This, our first post in our ‘LIKE @ SAC!’ series, marks LGBT History Month 2018 and highlights a favourite item in the Sackler Library’s collections:

R. B. Parkinson
A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World
(London: British Museum, 2013)

 

“All too often, written history is monolithic and not multiple, and it quietly suppresses aspects of life that are not considered ‘normal’ by the governing culture.” (Parkinson, 2013, p. 118).

 

My choice of ‘LIKE @ SAC’ item in the Sackler Library is Richard Bruce Parkinson’s A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Across the World.  Published by the British Museum, where Parkinson was a a curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the time, this book is one element of a wider project to make LGBTQ objects and histories more accessible at the British Museum.  A trail aimed at uncovering LGBTQ stories and interpretations relating to objects housed at the Museum was launched eight years ago, during LGBT History Month 2009.  It drew attention not only to objects with obvious, or explicit, links to LGBTQ history, but also to those whose connections are more implicit or unrecorded.  Since then, items have been coming out of the closet and into the display cabinets, marking a change in the practice of locking such objects away, such as was practised by the British Museum until the 1950s.

 

Parkinson’s book highlights objects from c.9000 BCE to 2000 CE, taking into account cultures ranging  from Japan to Greece, and including objects in the British Museum’s collections as well as elsewhere.  Starting with a Sculpted figurine of two lovers  (10000BCE, approx.), excavated near Bethlehem, Parkinson, now Professor of Egyptology, University of Oxford, highlights the assumptions that are made when interpreting the past.  Why do we assume that the sculpted figures are male and female, instead of showing same-sex desire?

 

I am particularly drawn to busts of Hadrian and Antinous, both represented on the book’s front cover.  A Newcastle native, I have a natural interest in Hadrian and his nearby, eponymous Wall.  In our school history lessons, however, we never covered the effect of the death of Antinous on Hadrian, the subsequent deification of Antinous, and the founding of a city, Antinopolis, in his honour.

 

Roman. (ca. 130 CE). Portrait of Hadrian, quarter view. [portrait bust]. (Image: © Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; IAP Artstor) Retrieved from http://library.artstor.org/asset/AWSS35953_35953_32668479, 06 February 2018

Crucially, this book also includes more recent objects from LGBTQ culture, with artworks and badges from Pride marches and campaigns, giving an insight, perhaps, into what future curators will look at when considering the histories of the current era.

 

For me it is important to celebrate not only the objects themselves, but the changing heritage discourse this book represents.  Museums are reflecting on their roles in representing and constructing society, and adapting their displays and policies accordingly.  John Vincent (2014) discusses the importance of the LGBTQ community in seeing themselves reflected in museum and heritage collections.  The work that has gone into exploring and elaborating on LGBTQ identities shows an important shift in the cultures of participation and inclusion of under-represented communities.  Sandell (2017) highlights the role museums can play in countering prejudice.  As LGBT History Month becomes more widely known, there is also an emerging interest in recognising and noting LGBTQ histories.  The V&A, the National Trust and the British Museum have all held recent LGBTQ exhibitions.  In addition, a major funder, the Heritage Lottery Fund, is currently seeking proposals based on LGBTQ histories (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2017).

 

A Little Gay History has inspired further projects exploring LGBTQ histories.  After hearing Parkinson deliver Oxford University’s LGBT History Month Lecture in 2016, Beth Asbury was inspired to apply for funding to put together an LGBTQ Trail across Oxford’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (also known as ‘GLAM’).  The result of this was the Out in Oxford Trail, launched during LGBT History Month 2017.  The Trail celebrates the diversity of Oxford’s collections, and uncovers queer stories associated with these objects.  This project continues today with a recently launched app.

 

 

A Little Gay History represents an important shift in the cultural heritage establishment, not just because of the objects highlighted within it, but also because it illustrates the important step in the study, inclusion and representation of LGBTQ identities as an essential part of our culture.  Our history is no longer closeted, our stories are no longer hidden.

 

“We are (always have been, always will be) integral parts of human history: and so our histories must not be marginal.” (Parkinson, 2012, para. 16.)

 

Helen Worrell
Archaeology & Tyler Anthropology Librarian
Bodleian Libraries

 

References

Heritage Lottery Fund, 2017. South East England focus on LGBT+ heritage – tell us your story!  [online] Available at: https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/news-features/south-east-england-focus-lgbt-heritage-–-tell-us-your-story [Accessed: 05/02/2018]

Parkinson, R. 2012. A ‘Great Unrecorded History’: Presenting LGBT History in a Museum for the World. [online] Available at: http://lgbtialms2012.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/richard-parkinson-british-museum-london.html [Accessed: 05/02/2018]

Parkinson, R.B., Smith, K. & Carocci, M., 2013. A little gay history: desire and diversity across the world, London.

Sandell, R. 2017. Making heritage part of society’s conversations about equality. [online] Available at https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/news-features/making-heritage-part-society%E2%80%99s-conversations-about-equality [Accessed: 05/02/2018]

Vincent, J., 2014. LGBT people and the UK cultural sector : the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950, Farnham.