We went to Oxford last month on a sunny afternoon. An old lady sat next to me (Tim) on the empty train while I (Lauren) was thankfully left alone. Why?
Exciting times ahead as for this installment of visitations, we were on our way to see the Bodleian Library – more specifically, the Social Sciences Library. It was also my (Lauren’s) final little trip out of the office, and it was nice to end on a visit that I had organised with one of their trainees! It’s quite a famous library everyone probably knows this already but a few quick facts about the Bodleian.
The Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and has been around for around 600 years now. In the UK it is second, just behind the British Library and they house approx. 11 million books. Despite all being under the moniker of ‘The Bodleian Library’, the ‘library’ is more a collection of a variety of different subject based libraries that are all run independently with their own rules and ways of working but more on that later…
The Social Sciences Library is located in a building called ‘Manor Road House’ which was designed by Norman Foster (see the Gherkin or HSBC Tower for other examples of his prominent work). The building is apparently listed, with the library taking up most of the ground floor. Unfortunately, temperature in the library is inconsistent, with some of the rooms being a bit chilly and other areas on the warmer side, although there is very little that can be done about it.
Our guide was Tom – the current grad trainee for the SSL who was finishing his traineeship in just one week!
Now we know how librarians love their statistics and data so just to whet your appetite, here are a few we picked up from the tour. I’d recommend holding on to your seat for the following stat-bomb:
- They have approx. 1000 unique visitors a day.
- They have approximately 360,000 books available.
- 40% of their user base is students, academics and professors. The rest is made up of the public.
- They re-shelve 100,000 books a year. That’s 273 books a day. Or 11 books an hour. Or 1/5th of a book every minute!
I don’t know about everyone else but those statistics really got me pumped.
The library is huge and spans just one floor of the building. The library team spreads the hours on the front desk equally among the entire team, with the graduate trainees spending just a third of their time on the desk. They have the usual set up of self-issue machines and they simply put out boxes for users to do ‘quick returns’.
As we toured the library, Tom pointed out some of the more niche and interesting collections they have and explained how rarely they get asked for but they keep them just in case. One such example was a collection social science statistics written in Icelandic. He also explained that they have the largest refugee grey literature collection. A personal favourite publication would probably be the Scandinavian Journal of African Studies, and it was also pretty cool to see some of the documents that had been worked on with other institutions (I personally enjoyed seeing a few documents produced by my old university, Reading – Lauren).
There are plenty of working spaces and the SSL has really tried to accommodate for just about every possible circumstance. Quiet study area? Check. Quiet study area where computers aren’t allowed? Check. Quiet study booths that can be privately booked? Check. Group study areas, a graduate-only study area, presentation/seminar style rooms, sofas, computer desks, etc etc. You get the idea. Additionally, all the desks were numbered to make navigating that bit easier.
As one of six legal deposit libraries in the country, the Bodleian’s collection is ever growing and Tom told us they expect to receive approximately 1,000 new books a week. They also collect Masters thesis and PhD’s submitted to them; this includes a variety of ‘celebrity’ students, including some who may or may not be prominent politicians, whom they occasionally receive calls from journalists about.
Other interesting tidbits included a micro-fiching machine (which rarely gets used) and loanable USB sticks. Radical, I know. Being suspicious of computer safety, we did enquire about the logistics on this one but was reassured that all USB sticks are reformatted back to factory level when they are returned.
They also have a very active Bodleian Instagram account that produces some excellent pictures and seems to be fairly popular (or well supported by Bodleian staff at least…). The SSL tries to be something of a pioneer within the Bodleian circle and they are often the first to try new things. Tom explained that the SSL tries to be quite progressive as far as Bodleian libraries go and they often trial new features before they go global. For example, Tom told us they recently started to allow people to bring in hot drinks (in special no spill reusable cups that looked pretty cool) and it has been a great success. They also have an excellent customer feedback system with the unofficial motto ‘You asked for it. We did it.’ Feedback is taken very seriously and they will always try to respond to feedback with improvements as soon as they can. There was a series of notice boards showing feedback given by the users and what had been done about it which really emphasised how they are constantly looking to cater to their users.
As for the life of a Bodleian library grad trainee? Well…it depends on the library! There are approximately 15 library trainees across the Bodleian and they have frequent gatherings in addition to regular weekly training sessions on librarianship. One of the key responsibilities of the SSL GT’s is to water the plants but they also get to do less important things like cataloguing, book repairs, working on the front desk, shelving and other library based tasks. An interesting difference came about because there are only two teams in the library, so the GTs are each based in one team for a week and then swap to spend the next week with the other. We ended our day with a pleasant informal presentation – sorry, ‘structured discussion’ – and general chinwagging about the life of a grad trainee, for which Tom invited a co-worker in who would soon be starting their own trainee scheme (albeit in a different library) soon. It was a very productive discussion, as we covered just about every stage there is of the traineeship between us all and it was interesting to see what other GT schemes do and don’t do in regards to our own.
With that, we rounded up our trip and headed back to the station. With plenty of time till our next train would be arriving, we took a quick wander around Oxford on our way back to take some more BONUS LIBRARY pictures as we know this is the only reason anyone reads this. So feast your eyes on this architectural overload:
Thanks for reading,