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Last Tuesday we had our second trainee get together when we were treated to a tour of the Bodleian library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Gladstone Link, as well as a wine reception at the Divinity School. It was very exciting seeing behind the scenes at these grand libraries!

Old School Quad

Old School Quad

As there are quite a few of us, we separated into two groups and our tours took different routes. In my group we looked around the Bodleian reading rooms first. We heard from our excellent guide all about how books are sent from the remote storage facility in Swindon (which we will be visiting this year!), and the different ways readers can collect their requests once they have arrived in Oxford. We then headed outside to see the Radcliffe Camera (currently undergoing some construction), and travelled back to the Bod underground through the Gladstone Link. I really liked the reader space in the Link, which was very modern compared to the reading rooms in the Bod and the Camera but which still had the traditional stacks, designed by William Gladstone himself.

The Bodleian Library at Sunset

The Bodleian Library at Sunset

Afterwards, we went to a reception in the Divinity School, the university’s first purpose built teaching room which was constructed in 1488. We were joined by senior members of the Bodleian library staff and were given a very warm welcome. The librarians present all wished us well for the coming year, and were very encouraging!

 

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Said Business School Amphitheatre

Said Business School Amphitheatre

Hi there! I’m the graduate trainee at the Sainsbury Library. A bit on my background – in July I graduated from the London School of Economics with a BA in History. I had no experience of working in a library prior to starting this job, which I was quite worried about! However, I worked in a department store for two and a half years so I have good experience of customer-service and managing stock. I have also done two work experience spells in archives (Westminster City Council and the National Theatre’s) and it will be very interesting to compare these with working in a library.

So far I feel I have settled in well – my colleagues are all very nice (and patient!) and the Sainsbury Library is a very lovely environment to work in. It’s very modern in terms of it’s design (especially compared to other libraries in Oxford!). As well as having a huge range of books, the library also subscribes to many various electronic databases. These are very popular with the students because they provide up-to-date information on markets, companies and industries. As a history student I never got the chance to work with these resources at LSE so I’m very keen to find out more about them here!

It was great meeting all the other trainees at the first session last week – we all come from such different academic backgrounds so it should make for an interesting group! Looking forward to sessions to come, as well as all the tours of the different libraries that we have been encouraged to set up.

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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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[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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