Archive for February, 2013

Well, better late than never, here is a glimpse of life at St.Hilda’s.

Today the Librarian has taken the 0830 start, so the opening procedures have been undertaken by the time I arrive. In general this involves opening the front door, unlocking any internal doors, closing the Lawyer’s entrance which gives them access outside opening hours, logging-on the OPACs, switching on the printers and photocopier and clearing any mess/items left on desks overnight.

0900 – Check returned books through the library management system. Student invigilators who man the desk after 5pm can accept returns but cannot remove the records from reader accounts.

Separate any books that have been recalled by readers, reserve them and contact them to let them know that they are ready for collection.

0930 – Chat about changes being made to the way we deal with book requests from Graduate students. There is a separate fund for Graduate taught courses and on feedback from the MCR at Library Committee we are attempting to improve and streamline this process.

1000 – Enquire about a book that was returned to us in error. Contact student and set it aside for collection.

Check book repairs that I left to dry overnight. One is satisfactory and ready to find its way home. The other hasn’t quite taken so I try again.

1030 – Student requests: There are a couple of book purchase requests in our recommendation book and e-mail. I check that we don’t already have the books as some students have not checked the catalogue fully before requesting. Check for availability and prices before sending off the request to the subject tutors for approval. Update the spreadsheet where we keep track of what has/hasn’t been approved.

1130 – Arrange the shelving trolleys in shelfmark order, ready for shelving later on.

1200 – Desk duty: My desk is the issue desk so when I am not in the reading rooms I will be issuing/returning books, signing out reserve shelf items, bookstands, giving paper for the printer/photocopier.

Accession some journals: Fill in the index card, add details to accessions spreadsheet, write accession number and shelfmark, stamp with St. Hilda’s logo.

Prepare book to send back to another library.

Receive approval from subject tutor to purchase book. Ring Blackwell’s who don’t have it in stock and as we try to make student requests a priority this book will be ordered from Amazon as it would be quicker than having Blackwell’s order it in from the publisher. Pass on details to the Librarian to order with the credit card.

1300- Lunch: I receive some gentle ribbing about how “orange” my lunch is – roast potatoes, chicken in some unknown sauce, beans and tomato ketchup for luck.

1400-Attempt to check-in a delivery from our suppliers but after much rooting no invoice is to be found. Detective work suggests another box will shortly be arriving.

Shelving journals: Place current subscriptions in their respective Science or Arts/Humanities racks. Shelve the previous issues with the rest of the back issues in the rolling stacks in the basement.

Take this time to give a quick patrol of the library for noise, food and drink, maintenance issues, check the printer cartridge levels and for students leaving unattended items and using up desks. I find a folder with important personal documents, (including a passport!) in a pile of papers next to the recycling bin. Save these and contact the student, who picks them up within 5 minutes. Such is the immediacy of a college library, I will sometimes not even have placed a book on the recall shelf 5 yards away from my chair before the reserver is at the desk to pick it up.

1430 – The subject tutors have all replied and it’s time to order some books. Blackwell’s will send one over the next morning and another will be ordered in and with us early next week. The tutors have asked for extra copies so I order these from our web-based supplier. It takes longer but they come pre-processed.

I create the orders on our library management system and create minimal catalogue records, which will show that these books have been ordered. The Assistant Librarian will make complete catalogue record when they arrive.

1530 – Shelving: As mentioned, no trainee goes without the daily duty. My faithful trolley and I trundle off to put some books to bed.

1615 – Wrapping up: Remove items from the returns trolley so as not to mix them with those to be returned overnight.

Redo some spine labels that have faded or fallen off.

Write this blog post.

1700 – Home time.



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Hullo! My name’s Will, and I’m the graduate trainee at the Codrington Library at All Souls College. I graduated from Merton College, Oxford in 2009 with a degree in English, and then studied for a Masters degree at the same College before starting at All Souls. Since no single day is entirely representative of my experience at work (variety being one of the main attractions of working in a college library), this little diary is a bit of a chimera, with lots of different events from my usual working week unceremoniously lumped together. Still, I hope it will sketch out some of the things you might encounter as a trainee at an Oxford College. Here goes…

8:45am – Arrive at the Codrington. Say hullo to Betty (our library scout). Open office. Switch on lights. Sigh. Put on kettle.

9:00am – Check the Fellows’ borrowing register (latterly an impressive leather-bound tome, currently an orange exercise book, soon to be an impressive leather-bound tome again). I add any new withdrawals to the relevant spread sheet, and update the book with today’s date.

9:25am – A mysterious parcel has arrived overnight. Excitement builds. It contains law textbooks and periodicals. Excitement fades.

9:30am – Open exterior door to Readers. Switch on recess lighting in the Great Library and the law reading room.

The Great Library.

The Great Library.

9:40am – I add the new law journals to our Scandex (a sort of squashed filing-cabinet used for keeping track of standing orders/journals), stamp, and then shelve on our ‘New Journals’ display. Eventually these issues will be catalogued online, but serials cataloguing is a scary business that I leave to braver people. For the moment, I notice that some of the series from last year are now complete, so I bundle them up and put them aside ready to be sent to the binders.  I add holdings records for the textbooks on Aleph (the university’s circulation and cataloguing software), create catalogue cards for them (yes, we still do this), stamp and bookplate, then shelve.

9:45am – I continue with my trainee project. This is the part of your traineeship where you’re allowed to undertake a self-contained task that will benefit the library, or conduct a bit of research into the library’s collections and history. I’ve elected to create a database of Codrington Readers up to 1900, based on signatures in the original admissions book. The library began admitting non-Fellows from the wider university in 1867, on the condition they behave nicely and sign the admissions register. Creating the database involves transcribing hundreds of signatures, of varying legibility. In many cases I have to make an educated guess, and cross-reference with the Oxford Historical Register , individual College Registers, and “other sources” (i.e. Google).  My success rate is reasonable, but progress can be painfully slow. I’ve reached the early 1880s.

10am – The team take a break and admire assorted cat pictures: http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/best-things-about-cat-bedtime.                Adorable. General agreement.

10:15am – Two new readers arrive (an historian and an archaeologist). I process their applications, make up their library cards, and give them a brief introduction to the library.

10:20am – One of the new readers requests a book from the stack (something on military history). I mooch off to fetch it.

10:25am – New reader no.3 (a geographer).

10:45am – Tea time. Someone’s eaten all the white chocolate wafers.

11:30am – Much excitement. I think I have pinned down one of the more elusive signatures from the admissions register: “R. Caldwell, Tmnevelly”. Much searching turns up a Dr. (later Bishop) Robert Caldwell, an evangelist missionary and linguist who travelled widely in Southern India (“Tmnevelly”, it seems, is the transliterated name of a settlement in the modern Indian state of Tamil Nadu).

12 noon – Lunchtime! Spicy sausage with couscous and chili jam.

12:30pm – The post has arrived. A donation from the Warden (the head of the College) concerning European Merger Law, a few invoices from EBSCO (our main journal supplier), the latest issues of three journals, and a book about Early Gunpowder Artillery. I add the invoices to our accounts spread sheet and add a holdings record for the Artillery book, pausing for a wry chuckle at the author’s picture (think Bill Bailey in a jerkin). I then process the journals (more wrestling with the Scandex), and strategically ignore the donation for the moment.

My desk, looking quite tidy.

My desk, looking quite tidy.

1pm – Back to the admissions book. I’m using the 19th century registers of Lincoln’s Inn and Inner Temple in an attempt to track down a few of the more stubborn signatures.

2pm – Spend a frustrating 10 minutes attempting to locate a book in the stack, only to find it was sat in the office – 6 feet from my desk – the whole time. Grrr. Time for tea.

2:30pm – Another donation, this time from an avant-garde artist in Poznan. The book is beyond my cataloguing skills, so I pass it to my colleague Fiona. Instead, I do the easy physical processing stuff, such as the donor’s bookplate, library stamps, and pressmark. I add the title to our donations spread sheet, and write a brief acknowledgement note (discovering lots of new Polish letter-forms in Microsoft Word in the process). Eventually this note will be signed by the Fellow Librarian, and sent to the donor as a thank you.

3pm  – I carry on with my cataloguing training. I’ve already been taught how to add simple holdings records for single and multipart items in Aleph , but now I’m learning to catalogue books from scratch. This involves mastering the shadowy art of the MARC record. MARC is a sort of rudimentary programming language that allows bibliographical data to be read by machines. It’s not impossibly hard, and I’m getting better with practice, but it can be rather pedantic and fiddly. There are lots of rules and procedures to remember, and it’s a real test of my concentration. Mercifully the person running the course at the Bodleian has a sense of humour, and my practice cataloguing tasks are all for ludicrous made-up books. My favourite so far is “Proceedings of the fourth California Prune Symposium”.

4pm – I have a long chat with the Assistant Librarian about her on-going attempts to construct a database of College Fellows (current and historic). Seems very complicated. More tea required.

4:30pm – More cataloguing exercises. My concentration wavers when an external researcher arrives to view a manuscript and some early printed books. The Codrington has lots of these (about a third of the entire collection of 185,000 items dates from before 1800), and I never miss an opportunity to shamelessly peer over people’s shoulders when something interesting gets called up.

Spiral staircase in the library office (my desk is at the bottom).

Spiral staircase in the library office (my desk is at the bottom).

5:30pm – Some re-shelving (apparently a task no trainee can avoid), re-filing of catalogue cards (most hated job), and general tidying up.

6:15pm – I lock the Fellows’ door (an entrance reserved for members of the College) and do the washing up.

6:25pm – The Assistant Librarian politely encourages our few remaining readers to begin packing up.

6:30pm – Home time!

Well, I hope that’s given you an idea of an average (ish) day as a library trainee at All Souls. The traineeship for 2013/14 is being advertised now (closing date: April 5), so if you have any questions about the job please do feel free to drop me an email, either at will.beharrell@all-souls.ox.ac.uk, or via the library’s general enquiries address: codrington.library@all-souls.ox.ac.uk. You can also find more information on the library website: http://www.all-souls.ox.ac.uk/content/The_Codrington_Library.

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Before posting the 8th ‘Day in the Life’ of an Oxford Library Trainee, I think it would be useful to introduce myself, as I have failed to do this so far… I’m Francesca, and I am the Academic Services trainee at the Law Library. I graduated from the University of Hull in 2009 with a BA in English Literature, and completed an MA at the University of Reading in 2010, before spending a couple of years experiencing the delights of office admin. Finally, I decided to attempt to pursue a career in Information Services and Librarianship, and here I am!  Having been working at the Law Library for five months now (times flies!) I know my way around and seemingly manage to undertake my role without asking too many questions! As it is Wednesday, and we have training this afternoon (today’s session is ‘Effective Training Sessions: pitch , plan , present!’), I have based this post on a fairly ‘typical’ day from two weeks ago, that highlights best what I do…

08:45-11:00: Desk Duty

Two mornings every fortnight (Thursday and Friday), it is my turn to open up and work on the Reserve Desk first, where the high-usage reading list material is kept and scanned out to readers for use in the library for  up to one day. Today is one of those days, so my first task when I arrive is to go round unlocking the photocopy room, the two computer rooms,and the seminar room, as well as switching on the enquiry desk computers and taking a reader count  from the exit gate for the previous day. I also check desks for left books and scan in any reserve books from the previous evening that were handed in at the last minute, and in turn respond to any queries about overdue noties received for these. I then check my emails and settle in to my desk shift . Like Kat, they are my favourite part of the job. I enjoy interacting with the readers and helping them with their enquiries. I am always happy to succeed in answering their questions as quickly and efficiently as possible. Readers seems particularly grateful when there is success in resolving issues with the photocopiers! Today, another regular query comes up. A reader wants to consult a book signed out to another reader on a research desk. This has to be located using Aleph, taken from the research desk and given a secondary consultation slip before being given to the reader. They must return the book to the Reserve desk for us to put back on the research desk when they have finished with it. I also get on with some loose-leaf filing, explained in Kat’s earlier post.

11:00am-11:20am: Break

11:20am – 12:00pm: Document delivery

One of my main tasks as the Academic Services trainee is to process and send document delivery requests to law firms for consultation or use in judicial proceedings, or to private individuals for research. The number of these requests varies , but on average there are probably 2-3 requests per week, mainly from law firms wanting the copy for commercial use. The requests are for copies of law cases, journal articles or book chapters. Today, I received a request from a law firm for a copy of  a journal article. I check  that we have it, and scan the copy. Back at my desk, I tidy the document so that it looks professional, and process the order using our Access database, ensuring that I assign the correct usage (e.g. Commercial UK, Commercial EU, Private Study or Judicial Proceedings), and therefore the correct charge. The details of the person/company being sent to, and the details of the item scanned, must be detailed accurately. I then create the invoice for the request, and send this along with the copy and a credit card form. These requests are usually processed as quickly as possible, and it is always satisfying when you receive thanks from a grateful researcher for getting the copy to them speedily ! Today’s request is simple and straightforward, but there are often copyright restrictions and other issues to consider before sending the copy.

12:00pm-1:00pm – New book shelving and moving books to the secondary collection

After Kat has labelled new books in Information Resources, they are brought down to the shelves in Academic Services for shelving. There can be only ten at a time, or sometimes twenty to thrity, depending on the day’s/week’s intake. Shelving books sounds simple enough, but there are certain collections in the library that are somewhat lacking in growth space! Shelving one new book can sometimes involve moving four or more shelves of books along to fit a new one in, as was the case today in a sequence in the library’s International Law collection. It is certainly good exercise moving them all about, and going around the four floors of the library to shelve them! Today, many of the new books are also new editions that supersede ones already on the shelf. These are easier to shelve, as I remove the old one and replace it. The old editions that I have gathered whilst shelving the new books are marked with a red x. I then take them to the 1st floor and shelve them in the secondary collection. (Today, I do this immediately; sometimes I leave it for another time if I need a sit down by this point!)

1:00pm- 2:00pm : Lunch

2:00pm-2:45pm: Inter-Library Loans claims

Another of my tasks in Academic Services is to process Inter-Library Loans claims to the British Library for Inter-Library Loans that we have provided to UK institutions. I do this once or twice a month. Today, there are twenty one to claim since just before Christmas. I complete and submit the form on the British Library website, detailing the British Library account number for the claim, the institution’s request number, and the cost. I then send the details of the request to Accounts. I record the date on which the claim was submitted in the Excel database, and print and file the documents in the claims folder. Admittedly, this is not the most exciting part of my job, but someone’s got to do it!

2:45pm -3 :05pm – Bodley Box

Like Sophie, one of my tasks at the Library is receiving and returning the books from the Book Storage Facility. We have two deliveries a day, at approximately 9:30am and 3:30pm (although the latter often arrives earlier – I suspect that it has been there a while today!) I do two morning deliveries and two afternoon deliveries per week. In the morning, I collect all the books that come up on the returns list from the shelves next to the Reserve Desk, research desks or carrels, and return them to the boxes in the packing room, before bringing the new ones upstairs and scanning  them in. I then put them in the correct place depending on the reader. The number of books varies, but there is never usually more than a box of books  – certainly not the number at the main Bodleian! This afternoon, there are only six books to scan in and put out in the reading room.

3:05pm -4:00pm – Foreign Dissertations Database

Finding myself with a quieter moment without a pressing task, I spend some time working on the Foreign Dissertations Database, where my (slightly average) French ‘A’ Level is put to minor use at last! I usually work on this when I have nothing urgent to complete. It involves recording handwritten card catalogues of foreign law dissertations from the early 20th century into a searchable Access database, for which there is a link on the Law Library website. There are approximately 40,00o to add, and since the project was started about 20,000 have been recorded – half way there! I input French language dissertations (although I do find the odd rogue  Dutch one which makes little sense to me!) but deciphering the handwriting can sometimes be tricky! I enjoy this task as it makes my brain try and recall the French it has learnt, and it is a worthwhile project to make a record of these documents that is searchable, so that they might be used. I manage to input twenty new records.

4:00pm – 5:00pm – Odds and Ends

I spend the last part of the day checking my emails and adding a couple of things to my calendar for next week, including our fortnightly Academic Services meeting, other team meetings, my desk duties, and the next couple of week’s training sessions. I spy a few final new books to shelve before hometime!

I hope that this post has given some insight into my role at the Law Library, and this day seemed to have an element of most of the things that I do (although don’t be fooled by the day’s steady pace – sometimes things happen all at once, or a document delivery request appears at 4:45pm!) Other projects that I am involved in include helping with the reclassification of the USA collection that Kat talked about, and working on projects with the Web Team and the Communications Team.

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Welcome to A Day in the Life of the Graduate Trainee at St John’s College, Oxford…

8.50-9.20 | Settling in Every morning the first thing I do is put the kettle on before sitting at my laptop to sift through my emails.  All members of the library staff (all 4 of us!) receive emails that are automatically forwarded from the general library email account, and whoever responds to enquiries copies in to their reply the other staff members.  This not only limits the chances of any enquiries being missed, but also ensures that everyone is kept in touch with what is going on and which visiting readers we can expect to see during the week.  All members of the college have access to the library during opening hours (we do not have 24 hour opening); anyone from elsewhere within the university who is having trouble locating a book that they require is welcome to approach us if we have a copy and consult the book within the library.  Similarly, any researcher (from Oxford or further afield) who wishes to view anything from our special collections is able to make an appointment to do so.


The Laudian Library, where I shelve the arts subjects books.

9.20-10.10 | Shelving It is my responsibility to shelve the arts subjects books in the Laudian Library, which is located upstairs.  Downstairs I arrange the books on a trolley in order of classmark and load them into the lift.  Upstairs I am defeated by two pesky steps into the Laudian Library which mean that I have to transfer all of the books, a few at a time, onto another trolley which is on the right level!  A reader has informed us that a book she returned is still on loan to her account.  This happens occasionally when a book has not, for one reason or another, been scanned on return.  Before I begin shelving, I locate the book and ask the Library Administrator to return it on ALEPH, our library management system.

10.10-11.00 | Classifying I am regularly given a pile of new accessions to classify.  We have a unique classifying system which is fairly straightforward, although occasionally I find that the categories are not quite specific enough, which can cause difficulties in choosing where to place something.  I also begin to process the book by giving it a barcode and writing the classmark in pencil on the inside of the front cover.  I then input this information into ALEPH.  Either I or another member of staff will complete the processing by stamping each book, giving it a bookplate and covering all new paperbacks.  As we do not have self-issue facilities and readers are not allowed to bring bags into the library, there is no need for electronic tagging, which is part of the job for many of the other trainees.

11.00-11.45 | Environmental monitoring In all of the places in which we store our manuscripts, early printed books and special collections, we monitor the temperature and humidity in order to keep conditions as ideal for conservation as possible .  This is done by humbug dataloggers (not too sure why ‘humbug’!) which take readings at set intervals; we then download the data each month and the humbug datalogger software adds it to a graph.  This means that it’s easy to see how stable the temperature and humidity have been, and if and when any fluctuations have taken place.  Once the data has been downloaded, we email it to the Oxford Conservation Consortium to glance over.  (The Oxford Conservation Consortium was formed by a group of Oxford colleges in 1990 to facilitate the care and preservation of their special collections.)  This task actually carries a fair amount of responsibility, since it is important to return each humbug to the correct location, and to ensure that all of the stores are secure.  It also takes a surprising amount of concentration to remember which set of keys out of the six that you have with you is for which lock!

11.45-12.00 | Tea break A bit later than usual today, as I wanted to deal with the environmental monitoring first.  I spend a little while reading the other trainee blog posts for ‘Day in the Life’.

12.00-13.00 | Issue desk I spend an hour on the issue desk most days, usually when the Library Administrator is at lunch.  It’s fairly quiet today, with just a handful of loans and returns.  We have some postcards and guide books for sale, and someone buys 8 postcards of the Old Library.  Often I will do some book processing or covering when I’m on the issue desk.

13.00-14.00 | Lunch

14.00-14.15 | Classifying The Librarian has purchased a couple of books that have been requested.  As there are people waiting for them, I classify them so that they can be processed as quickly as possible.

14.15-15.15 | Copy-editing of digital scans made of medieval manuscript catalogue About ten years ago, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts of St John’s College Oxford, the work of Ralph Hanna, was published.  Unfortunately, we do not have it in electronic format.  One of my ongoing projects is to copy and paste into a Word document the text from digital scans that have been made of the hard copy, and to edit it.  Quite often the computer software has misread ‘1’ for ‘I’ or ‘y’ for ‘ij’, for example!  The Librarian has talked me through some of the jargon that is used in the catalogue to describe manuscripts, and the task is much more interesting now that I understand a little more of what it means!

15.15-15.35 | Daily trip to the college’s Law Library Most days I make a trip to the college’s Law Library, which is located on the other side of the college.  The Law Library is accessible to law students only, and all of the books are confined to the library.  My main task whilst I’m there is to shelve new accessions, and re-shelve any books that readers have been using.

15.35-15.50 | Facebook page At the start of my traineeship, I set up a Facebook page for the library.  We currently have on display in the library reception some of the books shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Book Awards, and I have been sharing links to related content on our Facebook page, hoping to generate some interest.  Today I post a link to an article in The Telegraph on the two graphic novels that were shortlisted for the awards.

15.50-16.05 |Tea break

16:05-17.00 | Exhibition research As part of the graduate traineeship at St John’s, the trainee researches and displays an exhibition of their choice in Trinity term, drawing on the College’s special collections.  I am not going to reveal my chosen topic just yet, but I will explain a little about the research I have carried out so far.  Firstly, since working as the Graduate Trainee at St John’s means an involvement in the handling and displaying of the special collections, I was able to draw ideas from what I already knew was housed in the library.  I also searched on SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online) for early printed books relating to my chosen topic.  Next, I located any books that promised to be useful and had a look through them to see what might prove interesting to people as part of an exhibition.  I am now in the process of carrying out some wider research into my chosen topic, so that I can construct a coherent narrative around the items I am going to display.

17.00 | Home-time The library is open until midnight this term but after 17.00 it is staffed by postgraduate library invigilators.  And so we leave the library in their capable hands and head home for the evening.

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[I’m posting this on behalf of Sian, the trainee in the University Archives.]


It’s Day 6 of our ‘Library Trainee Day in the Life’ series and I’m going to confuse matters a bit as I’m not actually a library trainee – I’m the archives trainee. My name is Sian and I’m the Archives Assistant at Oxford University Archives. It’s the only archives trainee post currently offered at the University and it’s separate to the library trainee programme, although I’m allowed to tag along to their training sessions. It’s a one-year post, like the library traineeships, and I believe it will be advertised around March. What happens in archives? Well, let’s begin…

8:30-8:45 – The day begins

I arrive (a task in itself as our office is in the tower of the Bodleian Library, so my journey involves a trip up a worn stone spiral staircase) and turn on my computer. I check the phone messages and the diary but there’s nothing going on. I check our enquiries email account and find that there’s only one new enquiry. Rather disappointing, but not unsurprising. The number of enquiries we get seems to vary wildly for no particular reason – one week it’s incredibly busy, the next no one wants to know anything.

8:45-10:15 – Answering enquiries

I was in the middle of researching an enquiry when I left on Friday, so I start by finishing that off. It’s a bit of a tricky one so it takes me a while. It also involves some scanning, so that’s a trip down the stairs to use the library’s machines. The new enquiry, however, is a simple one. It’s one of our most common – ‘did this person attend the University?’ For pre-1891 students, there are published registers, whilst for students between 1891 and 1932 there is a card register in our office. I check it, the person’s not there (the usual result of such enquiries), I reply.

10:15-10:45 – Bits and bobs

I update our loans register and my to-do list before starting on this post. This is a good point to say more about what my job is. The University Archives is just one section of the Special Collections department at the University and we hold the administrative records of the University itself. So that’s things like some records of the departments, matriculation records, examination records, and so on. A lot of my emails involve redirecting people to the right place! Generally, my job involves answering enquiries (from both people within the University and external), making material available for readers, and sorting through new material and cataloguing it.

10:45-11:10 – Coffee break

Coffee and KitKat – just what’s needed by this point in a morning.

11:10-12:05 – More enquiries

We had another enquiry whilst at coffee, so I answer that. It’s another ‘this person went to the University, what can you tell me about it?’ question, but a little bit more complicated this time because it involves attempting to understand the University’s examination system. (Near impossible, if you’re wondering.) We also learn that the skeleton found in a car park is indeed Richard III – how exciting.

12:05-13:05 – The reading room

Next, I go and see what’s happening in Duke Humfrey, the reading room where archives material is read. I sign out some of our material that has been finished with and return to the office. (A two trip job.) My trip to the cupboard inspires me to do a bit of spring-cleaning, so I email a couple of readers who still have material out from before Christmas. There are also four heavy boxes that want bringing to the office for a bit, so I bring two of those up. It works up a good appetite for lunch.

13:05-13:25 – Transporting material

It’s nearly lunchtime but first I take some of the material I removed from Duke Humfrey back to storage. Whilst our office and some older material are in the tower of the Bodleian, the archives themselves are mainly stored in the basement of the Examination Schools. So returning items to storage involves putting as much as I can carry into a bag and walking down the High Street. Thankfully, today’s quite nice out (but material still had to go to and fro even in the recent snow…).

13:25-14:25 – Lunch.

14:25-15:50 – Even more enquiries and more transporting material

There was some excitement this afternoon as, on returning to the basement after lunch, it transpired that the power sockets in half of the rooms had stopped working. As this included the room with the computers, I was utterly lost. Usually, my return from lunch sees me logging on and checking emails. Today, though, I went straight to my filing (more on this joy later) whilst my boss sorted out the power issue.

Once power returned and the computers were usable, I looked up some locations and put away the material that I brought over before lunch. There had been a further enquiry following one of my replies this morning, so I researched that as best I could and replied again. Sometimes answering enquiries, like this one, ends up being far more difficult than it should be because I have to try and find the exact right words to explain what’s going on – there are a lot of assumptions about what words mean and a lot of confusion about what exactly was happening when, and it’s hard to try and get across exactly what it is an enquirer wants to know in a way that cannot be misunderstood (especially when I have a rather tenuous grasp of it all in the first place). But I rather enjoy grappling with it all.

15:50-17:00 – Sorting/cataloguing

I check my personal emails for things of archive-related interest and write most of this post. And then it’s filing time. (Technically, I believe I am cataloguing, but it feels a lot like filing.) We recently had an accession of a batch of academic staff files, so my current task is to make sure they’re in alphabetical order and to put them all in boxes, noting down their dates as I go. Once I’ve boxed them all, I’ll go back through them and give each file a reference code and add them to the catalogue. That won’t happen for a while, though – today, I reached the Os. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is not the most riveting task, so I have to find a way of entertaining myself while I work. There are not many perks to working alone in a basement, but one of the few is the ability to sing along to my iPod as much as I like. I take full advantage of this – there’s nothing like a rousing rendition of Do You Hear the People Sing? to brighten up an afternoon’s work.

17:00 – Home time

So with that final insight into the life of an archives assistant, it’s time for me to go home. This has been a pretty typical day – answering enquiries, doing some cataloguing, limited human interaction. I’m aware I may not have made it sound particularly spectacular, but I do enjoy my job and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. If you like extracting information, enjoy helping researchers, are rather organised, will feel great satisfaction at the sight of hundreds of beautifully boxed and labelled files, and don’t mind constantly having paper cuts, then archives could be the career for you!

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Welcome to day five in the Day in the Life series. Every day my duties and tasks vary considerably depending on where in the library I am working, so there is really no such thing as a ‘typical’ day, but I hope this post will give you some idea of what I do on a day-to-day basis as the Bodleian Library trainee.

8.45 – 9.20: The Day Begins
I arrive in work glad to get out of the cold, hang my coat up, head to the Main Enquiry Desk and turn on my computer. Many of the staff start earlier than me so the opening routine has already been completed; photocopiers and computers are turned on and the morning book replacing is underway in the reading rooms. There are three of us on Main Enquiry Desk this morning, and as it’s been relatively quiet over the past couple of days I take the opportunity to carry on re-numbering the desks in the Lower Reading Room, a project I’ve been working on for a while. I’ve been trying to do most of the re-labelling before the library opens so that I don’t cause too much disruption to readers, so I continue peeling off the double-sided tape and sticking them on each desk. Not the most exciting of tasks, but someone’s got to do it!

9.20 – 10.10: Background Tasks
I reach desk number 173 and run out of labels with only six desks to go – typical! After much searching I finally track down some more yellow paper, print some more labels, laminate them and stick them on the desks. Now I’ve finished this project I’m free to start working on the next task I’ve been given, which is to check the locations and shelfmarks of all the Classics Journals that the Bodleian holds on the open shelves. There were many books moves over the summer and we’re all still getting used to the new locations,  so it’s my job to create an an updated list of where everything is to make them easier to locate when readers ask.

10.10 – 10.30: Main Enquiry Desk.
Back at Main Enquiry Desk I read through my email inbox and catch up with everything going on in the library. I have 26 emails this morning so there is plenty to read, and a couple to reply to. The phone rings and it’s someone enquiring about how to become a library user. I explain the process to them, ask them to email us the names of any off-site books they want to see so that we can order them in advance of their visit, and put them through to the Admissions Office who can explain the process of getting a library card. I spend quite a lot of my time at Main Desk, which is the most challenging but rewarding part of the job. I love helping and interacting with readers, and the vast array of queries we get (especially via email) keeps me on my toes – I learn something new every day.

10.30-11.00: Tea break time

11.00-11.30: Outline Meeting
Each year, the Bodleian trainee has the great opportunity to assist with the editing of the Bodleian Libraries Staff Newsletter. Every Thursday the editors, a small group of staff from various libraries and departments, meet to read through the draft copy of the newsletter to correct any mistakes and make changes to the formatting ready for printing. This week we also discuss a few ideas of what we want to include in future issues and what features we’re going to promote.

11.30 – 11.55: Posters
Back at Main Desk, one of my colleagues asks me to visit each reading room of the library and put up some posters promoting a new service the library is offering. There are seven reading rooms in total and it takes me a while to walk round to each one, up and down many flights of stairs.One of my regular tasks is to sort, stamp and put up the many posters we receive at Main Enquiry Desk, and on my way around the library I take down any posters that are out-dated and make a mental note to put up the stack of new posters that have accumulated at some point this week.

11.55 – 13.00: Main Enquiry Desk
I arrive back at Main Enquiry Desk again and get down to get to sit down at last! It’s relatively busy today and we have quite a few people come up to the desk needing help with various things. I help someone over the phone who is having trouble logging in to the online catalogue, and then assist a reader in creating a photocopying account. Next, I check the two Reader Services email accounts to see if we’ve had any more enquiries today. My colleagues replied to all the ones from this morning when I was re-numbering the desks, but we check the accounts constantly throughout the day and try to reply as quickly as possible. We’ve received two enquires in the last hour so I answer both and record them on the spreadsheet.

13.00 – 14.00 – Lunch time

14.00 -14.30: Book Replacing
As the trainee I get to move around the library and work in all the reading rooms, which is great as it keeps my days varied. This afternoon I’m in the Lower Camera Reading Room, though first I take a trip to the Gladstone Link as it’s my turn to help with the afternoon replacing. New ImageAs it’s term time there is quite a lot this afternoon, but with four of us replacing it doesn’t take too long. We get stopped by readers a lot, who are struggling to find the books they need. It’s always nice to see how grateful they are when we find what they were looking for so quickly!

14.30 – 14.45: Issue Desk
Back in the Lower Camera, I log in to a computer and am immediately rushed off my feet with a queue of readers at the desk. The Radcliffe Camera is the new home of the History Faculty Library, and unlike in the Old Bodleian many of the books can be borrowed. As an undergraduate reading room which is nearly always full in term time, it’s the busiest reading room I get to work in and time flies by. Being on the issue desk involves issuing and returning books, giving readers books that they have requested from the stacks, registering new library users, processing fines, as well as dealing with general queries and assisting readers with the photocopiers, searching the catalogue and finding books.

14.45 – 15.05: Book Delivery
The afternoon book delivery arrives. We get three deliveries of books a day in each reading room of books that readers have requested from the off-site stacks, and in term time the number of books that need processing increases dramatically. It’s not too much this afternoon though, only two full boxes. We can receive anywhere up to twelve boxes of books per reading room, which quite often happens in the Old Bodleian during term. Processing the books involves taking them out of the boxes, checking to see that each book is in the right reading room, scanning them into the system, sorting them alphabetically by reader’s surname, and putting them on the shelves behind the reserves ready for readers to come and collect.

15.05 – 16.20: Trainee Project Research
Though it’s busy at the issue desk there are some moments of calm, and I get the chance to get on with other things. In between readers I take the opportunity to research more out how to create a LibGuide, which I’ll be doing as part of my trainee project. I’m also going to give a tour of the library in a couple of months to staff from another library, so I send an email to make arrangements.

16.20 – 16.50: Tea break. I take a late break as it’s Thursday so I’m doing my weekly evening duty and working until seven. Coffee and cake with a friend is a lovely way to break up my shift.

16.50-19.00: Evening Duty
Back to work for my evening duty. I usually work my evenings in the Lower Reading Room, and I’m on the reserve desk on my own for an hour while my colleague goes down to the Gladstone Link to book replace. It’s relatively busy for an evening, with readers coming to the desk to collect or return their books. When my colleague comes back, I start the shelving in the reading room while she minds the desk. As usual there are a lot of books to replace, and I manage to re-shelve two full trolleys and many piles of books that have been left on the desks. Thankfully in term time we are open until 10pm, so staff who start at 7pm can also spend an hour shelving, getting the bulk of it done so that there isn’t too much left to replace in the morning. In vacation, we close at seven, so I would start the closing routine at 6.30, but that’s the job of the staff working until ten tonight. When the next lot of staff arrive, I’m free to head home for the night.

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