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The Old Library

This week, we had a Monday morning treat in the form of our first trainee-led library tour. Joanne welcomed us into St John’s with a bit of historical background, describing the college’s foundation by a wealthy Merchant Taylor and its staunch loyalty to the Royalist cause during the Civil Wars. In fact, finding images of King Charles I in and around the library took on a distinctly Where’s Wally feel after a while!

We were welcomed in and asked to stow our bags safely behind the desk: in contrast to most of the reading rooms we saw on the Bod tour, the librarians are the main form of book detectors here. Then it was onwards into the Paddy Room, a light and spacious area with open shelves holding the library’s science, social sciences and DVD collections.

Upstairs provided a striking change of scene with the Old Library, complete with a laser security system (which Joanne managed to disable for us with her secret library ninja ways). One of the other librarians, Stewart Tiley, then treated us to a hands-on display of some of the manuscripts and early printed books. These works were passed around very gingerly! As we walked through we took in some of the display on the Seven Deadly Sins organised by Joanne’s predecessor; who knew Jane Austen would be one of the guilty party?

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The Laudian Library

We then passed into the Laudian Library, named after Charles I’s archbishop. As well as holding modern humanities works and providing an atmospheric workspace for readers, this room housed yet more special collections.

We saw a botched piece of royal propaganda, a tiny New Testament written in indecipherable shorthand and a Renaissance horoscope. Some of the more bizarre curios included a macabre walking stick used by Laud right up until his execution,  while Stewart suggested the reinstatement of the skeletons which used to flank the door. And to keep up the Charles I quota, there was an image of the king composed of a psalm in miniscule handwriting.

Finally, we got to take a peek into the archives, which offered a mix of the modern and the unique. St John’s is very lucky to hold collections of papers previously belonging to Robert Graves and Spike Milligan. What better way to finish a visit by looking at the Milligan’s illustration of Fluffybum the cat?

ImageHello, my name is Anja and I am one of the two trainees at the Social Science Library (SSL). I graduated three years ago from the University of Sheffield with a BA in History. Since then I have been working as a Learning Support Assistant in a couple of secondary schools. It was a hugely rewarding job which showed me that I really enjoy (and am quite good at) helping people in an educational setting. I was eager to challenge myself further and learn something new which is why I applied to the University of Oxford for this traineeship. I didn’t expect to be invited for an interview let alone be offered a job, yet here I am. So, if there is anyone out there considering whether it would be worth your while applying next year, my advice would be to just go for it. 

As you will have noticed from the picture, the SSL is certainly not one of the most traditional of libraries at the the University of Oxford. The lack of the history, however, is made up for by the sheer amount of great experience I am being offered (as well as the stupendously friendly staff). In just the few weeks that I have been working at the SSL I have learnt so much already. Luke (my fellow trainee) and I were given quite an extensive training programme in our first week and a half. At first for me this seemed like a vast mountain of information all of which I would never be able to remember. However, thankfully, it wasn’t quite as overwhelming as it first seemed. This is a relief since in a few weeks we will be inundated with new undergraduates who will look to me for guidance (poor souls). I am looking forward to the time when many of the tasks I am only just getting to grips with seem second nature. As the SSL is quite a large and busy subject library, we trainees have the chance to experience many different aspects of library work here. From supporting readers at the desk to all of the work that gets done behind the scenes, Luke and I get a taste of all of it which should give us a really firm foundation for the future. 

It has been a nerve-wracking experience moving away from my family and friends in Leicestershire, but the transition has been made really easy by the fact that Oxford is such a lovely city and I have met so many friendly and interesting people. I wish all of my fellow trainees a wonderful, enriching year and I look forward to getting to know you all better.

Hello! I’m Lyn, the new trainee in the History Faculty Library. Having completed an MA in History in 2011, I’ve spent the past eighteen months working in public libraries. I really enjoyed the experience (although it became fairly apparent how much local authority libraries are struggling), subsequently deciding that it would be worth exploring the academic side of things. I now have the very good fortune to be based in the Radcliffe Camera, which is certainly a beautiful place to arrive every morning!

At present the site is undergoing lots of building projects (including a new entrance to the Lower Camera and an updated staff office), which should make things more accessible for everyone by the start of the new term. Owing to the scale of the building work, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Gladstone Link, which is currently functioning as a temporary service point for the Lower Camera. The contrast between the Link and the Camera is startling – as noted on our tour, there’s a definite Star Wars feel to the reading rooms below ground level! Although readers are presently unable to access the lending collections upstairs, staff can still collect books for them, so I’ve been orienteering my way around plenty of dust sheets.

I’ve also done a few late shifts, which involve ringing an antique bell repeatedly in order to encourage readers to depart. Having come from an environment with far less compliant readers, this is proving an interesting change! I’m gradually finding my way around the systems used here (thanks largely to very helpful staff), so hopefully I’ll be ready for the arrival of the new students. Having said that, I’ve been warned that nothing will prepare me for the sudden increase in reader volume!

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The Fellows’ Library

Hello! I’m Emma, this year’s trainee at Jesus College. I come from a background in Medieval Studies at Birmingham, where I got bitten by the rare books bug while studying manuscripts and early print. Volunteering on Nottingham Castle’s social media this year also got me enthused about making hidden collections accessible. This is my first library job, which is both daunting and exciting!

So far, I’ve been trying to familiarise myself with the Meyricke library. It’s mostly used by undergraduates, so the quiet period before term starts is the perfect time to do this. I’ve begun working through some books donated by a retired Fellow, which is giving me plenty of practice with SOLO. At the moment, we’re also giving tours of the Fellows’ Library (see image) to past Rhodes Scholars, It’s a good opportunity for me to learn a bit about the history of the library, and to see how visitors engage with the works which are chosen for display.

As well as this, I’ve been lucky enough to attend a presentation on parchment making by the Oxford Conservation Consortium, as well as a tour of the Museum of the History of Science’s library. It’s great to work in a city where there are so many people working with books who are willing to share their expertise. And so far I haven’t been disappointed by the librarian stereotype of indulging in tea and delicious cake! I’m looking forward to being able to deal with more readers when term starts and hearing about everyone’s experiences throughout the year.

The library at its opening in 1935 (from college website)

The library at its opening in 1935 (from college website)

Hello, I’m Grace and I’m the Graduate Trainee at St Hilda’s College Library (also known as the Kathleen Major library, after a former Librarian and Principal of the college). I graduated from Cambridge this year, where I studied English at Selwyn College, so moving to Oxford didn’t feel like too much of a change. Abundance of gowns, beautiful architecture, weird terminology – yup, feels normal. I have very limited library experience; I spent a week working at the English Faculty Library in Cambridge, and then a month helping with the project of RFID-tagging all the books in my college library. After 6 hours per day of sticking tags into books, shelving seems like a magical adventure…

St Hilda’s has quite a large library for a newer, less grand college. This is because it was a women-only college until recently, and since once upon a time women were not allowed to use the Bodleian, female colleges had to build their own strong collections (as Hannah also mentioned in her post). There are a few quirks of Hilda’s library: firstly, we’re not on SOLO, as we have our own system called Heritage (note my absence from SOLO training sessions, fellow trainees). Additionally, we tend to do things rather traditionally: I am the main security system, checking bags and Bod cards, and I also use a typewriter for spine labels.

There is one other notable fact about St Hilda’s Library which I keep forgetting is the main reason people have heard of it. I was reminded when a conference guest came in today. “I have come to see the famous St Hilda’s library!”, he proclaimed. I was confused – it’s a nice library, but famous? “Yes, where the students did the video!” Oh. Welcome to the library that made national news with that Harlem Shake fiasco…

I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead – learning lots, riding out the chaos that will ensue when the undergrads turn up, avoiding being crushed by the rolling stacks, getting to know my fellow trainees better, and generally enjoying life within the great web of Oxford libraries.

codrington library

Hello! I’m Gabrielle, the graduate trainee at the Codrington Library at All Souls College this year. I’m from the Seattle area, Washington State, USA. For the past few years I’ve been researching and writing about early modern English literature, focussing on depictions of swordswomen. Recently I’ve been working on an MLitt (Master’s by research) in the English Faculty here in Oxford — and working a few hours per week at the University College library. Before that I was on the English MA course at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and, what seems like ages ago, I did my BA in English at Smith College in Massachusetts. Unfortunately I’m commuting from Coventry this year, which is about an hour each way, so I can’t be as sociable as I’d like – but I’m looking forward to getting to know my fellow trainees as much as possible in the coming months!

I am absolutely delighted to be working at the Codrington Library, which I’ve found has impressive scope – from amazing illuminated medieval manuscripts to the latest law journals. I’m sure to be constantly learning new things this year, as the library staff wears many hats: from helping the various Fellows of All Souls locate research materials, welcoming readers from around the university (undergraduate and graduate), keeping the collections up to date, handling a steady stream of archive and research queries, and much more – all with three employees total!

We’ve been discussing when would be a good time to offer a tour – I hope everyone will be able to come by to see this beautiful and historic library!

(Photo courtesy of simononly via Creative Commons)

Hello, I’m Diana and I’m the trainee at the Oxford Union Society Library. I did a BA and MA in English Literature at the University of Sheffield, graduating in 2007, and have since been working in theatre PR. The graduate trainee scheme is a bit of a change of career direction, but offered me the chance to fulfil an ambition I thought had long since passed me by!

The Oxford Union Library is for members of the Union Society and our holdings are determined by the wishes of our members. We have Library Committee meetings every week during term time to discuss what will be added to the collection, which consists largely of academic materials, but with a strong leisure reading section too, including an extensive collection of travel guides, and an ever-growing stock of DVDs.

The building itself is pretty special, featuring the famed Pre-Raphaelite murals on the gallery walls of the Old Library. Anyone can come and visit the murals for a small fee, and we have a steady stream of visitors coming in every day to see them. My predecessor has created a fabulous audio guide for them too, which you can hire or download to give you a little more of the story behind these wonderful paintings. I’ll be using it to ensure I know all the answers to any visitor questions…Oxford Union Library - Gallery and Murals

I’m really looking forward to this year. Though I was initially worried about being too old and no longer having a properly functioning brain, the training so far has been really interesting and I’m beginning to get the hang of things (slowly…). It is wonderful to be working in such a unique environment, and in a library with such a varied collection, whilst also having the opportunity to meet and chat with the other trainees, and learn from their experiences too.