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This is the first of five blog posts written for round 8 of the Library Day in the Life Project  by the graduate trainee at the Radcliffe Science Library.

I found out a little while ago about a project called Library Day in the Life.  Twice a year people who work in libraries and library school students share with the world what they actually do through blog posts, twitter, photos, videos or in any other way they can think of.  I think it’s brilliant idea, so decided to participate in the next round.

Although I’m the Radcliffe Science Library trainee, I don’t actually spend all my week there as we have two satellite libraries where I also work.  My normal timetable is:

  • Monday – Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy
  • Tuesday – Alexander Library of Ornithology
  • Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – Radcliffe Science Library (RSL)

So, here we go …

11am: Arrive at the Fielding-Druce Herbarium at the Department of Plant Sciences.  A herbarium is like a library with dried plant specimens instead of books, but this one also houses library material (i.e. books) and the library offices as well. The library and herbarium work together very closely.  My evening duty (5-7pm) at the RSL for this week is today, so I’m in a couple of hours later than usual.  I check my emails and book myself on to an Oxford University Computing Services course on copyright in the digital age for which booking has just opened.

11.15am:  I gather some stationery together and head up to the general reading room, which is on the other side of the building.  The reading room is accessible to department members via swipe card and not usually staffed, but this is where I spend most of my time when I’m at plant sciences as it is where the archive I’m working on is kept.

Druce Archive boxes

Druce Archive boxes

Throughout my year as a trainee I’m working on the archive of man called George Clarence Druce.  Druce was a botanist, pharmacist and strongly involved with Oxford City Council, becoming mayor in 1900.  He also seemed to keep almost every piece of paper he acquired!  My task for the year was to re-box the archive into conservation boxes and make a basic listing of what is in each box.  I completed the re-boxing stage last year and am now on to the description stage.

I start where I finished off last week – on box 12 (of about 150!).  This box contains material relating to Czecho-Slovakia (as it was then), mostly from a visit Druce made there in 1920 as part of a deputation of British journalists and includes correspondence, newspaper cuttings, tourist guides, photographs, postcards, maps, menus … As this box contains lots of unusual items and is not easily sorted into bundles, each item is described separately in the Excel spreadsheet I am using to list the contents of the archive.  I give each item a number, note down the name of anyone connected with the item and a year (if applicable), select a material type (e.g. letter, photograph, map, etc) write a general description and note down anything that might be a conservation issue.

12.25pm: Box 12 finished, on to box 14 (I’ll come back to box 13 later).  This box contains much more normal contents for this archive – four bundles, mainly of correspondence but also containing all sorts of other material, with each bundle containing material from one or two years.  For each bundle I remove any old string or wrappings (wrappings are kept separately in the box), go through the items checking the material type, look for anything particularly interesting and check for botanical specimens hidden inside letters.  Once recorded each bundle is tied up with conservation tape with a small slip of acid-free paper indicating the bundle number.  In this box I came across (among many other things):

  • a pamphlet containing a list of the rules of and a list of the members of the Pharmacy Club for 1914
  • a report of the Oxford Education Committee’s Higher Education sub-committee
  • term cards of the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire (these crop up fairly frequently)
  • an invitation to the opening of the Radcliffe Infirmary and County Hospital’s new buildings
Workstation with computer, conservation box containing finished bundles, a bundle yet to be done, conservation tape etc

My workstation

1pm: Suddenly realise it is lunchtime, so pack up and head back down to the library offices to back up my mornings work onto the staff network drive before going to lunch.

2pm: Head back up to the reading room to carry on where I left off before lunch.

2.50pm: Help the librarian with photographing a page from a rare book for a researcher from Holland (the copy of the book the researcher has access to is missing pages).

3.10pm: Once we’ve finished the photographing we go to look for a suitable conservation box for some of the items in box 13 of the Druce archive.  Last week I had a quick look at the next few boxes to see what might be in store and when I looked in one of the envelopes in box 13 found it contained two penknives! We decided to store these separately from the rest of the archive, so they need their own box.  They will also need to be catalogued!

3.20pm: Having found a suitable box, I head back up to the reading room to finish off box 14.

3.40pm: Box 14 finished, seems like a good time for a tea break.

4pm: Start on the rest of the contents of box 13, which turns out to consist almost entirely of glass slides.  Very helpfully quite a lot of them have little labels saying what they are of.

4.45pm: Pack up the archive, go down to the library office to back up my work again and walk down the road to the RSL for my evening duty on the circulation desk.

5pm: Arrive at the RSL.  While on the circulation desk I issue books, return books, renew books, etc, but also tend to find time when it’s quiter to get other work done.  This evening I manage to deal with some emails, order books from our off-site storage facility for a visiting reader who is visiting the library next weekend and get a bit further with the LibGuide I’m creating on reference management.

7pm: End of the day.

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On Wednesday, we concluded our traineeship through the presentation of the projects that we had worked on throughout the year. It was a wonderful opportunity to see what everyone had been working on in their libraries.

I presented my project on the digitization of the Birthday Book of George Claridge Druce (1850-1932), chemist, Mayor of Oxford and one of the great botanists of the early 20th Century, which I worked on at the Sherardian Library in the Department of Plant Sciences. I greatly enjoyed working on this project, and learned a lot, not only about Druce (a most remarkable man), but about the practice of botany in Britain during the early 20th Century (shift from natural history as collecting to a circumscribed science, and the rise of the conservation movement to preserve rare specimens in the wild rather than just collecting them).

I also learned how to design and implement databases in Access and learned some basic XML coding. The next step will be uploading the Druce database to the UK Archives Hub, where it will be made available for research.

One of my other projects at the Radcliffe Science Library involved making a virtual tour of the library, which was used during the Science Open Days at the RSL when prospective undergraduates visit the library and science departments at Oxford. The virtual tour was done using Powerpoint and Adobe Captivate. You can view it at the following link:

Radcliffe Science Library Virtual Tour

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Mont Blu in Zoology Library

Mont Blu - Blue bags in the Zoology Library (Photo: O. Bridle)

 The first two months of my traineeship have seen many changes occurring in the science libraries, and it has been an interesting, (if often surreal) induction into librarianship. The Departmental libraries in Zoology and the Plant Sciences have closed, and the collections have mostly been merged with those of the Radcliffe Science Library. My first few days of work as a trainee were spent wrapping a corridor-long card catalogue drawer-by-drawer in cling film so that the cards would not be dislodged during moving – a “unique” experience, but important none-the-less, as a good portion of the references (pre-1938) are not catalogued on OLIS. Other tasks have included measuring and calculating shelf space for the ornithological journals and bulletins in the Alexander Library of Ornithology, and “blue bagging” duplicate journals for secure destruction (see the photo of Mont Blu which is all that remains of the former Zoology Departmental Library). I have also had the invaluable opportunity to participate in library induction tours and more specialised research skills presentations with the subject librarians at the Radcliffe Science Library.

Plant Science Library Reading Room

Former Plant Sciences Library Reading Room (Photo: G. Petrokofsky)

On September 23, the Plant Sciences Library was officially closed with a “BBBL” (Brown Bag and Bubbly Lunch). Roger Mills, Head of Sciences, gave an excellent address outlining the history of the Plant Sciences Library and the Oxford Forest Information Service, and the work that has gone into the move of most of the Plant Sciences collections for inclusion in the Radcliffe Science Library. The future of ISBES was toasted with sparkling wine, and it was a wonderful opportunity to talk with the librarians about their work and experiences. The Plant Sciences Library is now closed, but the new Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy still remains associated with the Oxford Herbaria. Herbarium Curator Dr. Stephen Harris took us on a tour of the Herbaria, while special collections and biology subject librarians Anne Marie Townsend and Judith Pinfold took us on a tour of the library collections, including a glimpse of the magnificent Flora Graeca, first published in 1806, an incredible work of botanical illustration.

PoetryReadingRSL

Ciorsdan Glass reads her poem "North" at the Parallel Universes Poetry Evening (Photo: J. Ralph)

October 7 not only marked the official opening of the Book Storage Facility in Swindon, but it was also National Poetry Day. The Radcliffe Science Library celebrated with the Parallel UniVerses poetry evening, held in the entrance lounge of the RSL. The Parallel UniVerses poetry competition had been organised as a unique synthesis of science and art, and over 86 entries were received. Ten of these were selected to be read during the evening. It was a wonderfully festive use of the library space: although 40 people had booked for the evening, almost 100 people were in attendance. The mood was festive as the poets and their audience partook in hors d’oeuvres and wine before the event. The poems themselves were lovely, poignant and often touching reminders that science is not all cold laboratory benches and sterile white lab coats, but is a human endeavor.

(With Thanks to J. Ralph, G. Petrokofsky and O. Bridle for photographs)

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