My experiences as an Erasmus trainee
I am writing this blogpost with mixed emotions, realising that my time as a library trainee at the Language centre library is coming to an end. As hard as it is to believe, two months have passed and while writing this text I have the challenging task of trying to describe everything I have learned and to summarise my wonderful experiences.
Training as a library assistant at the Language centre library
As I had some previous practical experience of working part time in a public library in Sweden, some aspects of the role as a library assistant were quite familiar to me even in the very beginning. Mainly helping library users and shelving or reorganizing items. However, over time I noticed that the differences were quite substantial, particularly when the library in question is part of the Oxford Bodleian library system. It was very interesting to experience how the role of a library assistant and librarian in a specialist higher education library differs from my previous understanding.
My first few weeks as a trainee mostly revolved around getting to know the language centre, the library and the people and to obtain a general idea about how the different groups of users, mainly language tutors and students made use of the library and learn how to assist them accordingly. The language centre librarian and my mentor, Lucile, was very helpful as well as instructive and showed me different aspects of the services and guided me through the library’s collections to help me get an overview of how everything works. In these early stages I got to do some shelving of materials and reordering work on my own as well, which helped me to better understand the library’s organization of resources and developed my ability to find my way around the shelves. Most importantly it made it possible for me to help library users how to locate material. During these weeks I shadowed the librarian to learn the best ways to help and inform library users, in this first period I also took part in a two day course about circulation at the Bodleian libraries held in the Osney one building. This provided me with a valuable first introduction to the ALEPH system and the circulation module which is used throughout the Oxford Bodleian libraries system.
The following weeks I was starting to feel more confident and filled in for Lucile while she was on lunchbreak, in meetings or held presentations and I started working more independently with different tasks. As this is a language centre specialist library the biggest part of the collection consists of language course textbooks and reference material about for example grammar, vocabulary and accent. As Michaelmas term was starting up, our main priority was to register and welcome new library users and to show new students around. This meant giving introductory tours on how to use the library and how to fully utilise the different services and resources that the library has to offer. When I had been here for a few weeks I was also offered the incredible opportunity to partake in a language course at the language centre. As I had always wanted to learn French I embarked on a complete beginner’s course and it was a challenging but very rewarding experience and I definitely want to continue and improve. Being at the language centre has inspired me to want to learn more languages.
In the next following weeks there were some ongoing tasks, mainly registering new library users and entering them into the library system as well as helping them find the right resources which often tended to be textbooks connected to their course. Processing new library items was also an important task and especially in the beginning of term when all courses were about to start and language tutors and students needed material for the classes. I learned how to use a computer for this purpose and how to add and program RFID tags as well as the process of marking resources in different ways to make them identifiable and visibly part of the library collection. Other continuous and ongoing tasks were also for example entering data in an excel document regarding spending and acquisition, learning about handling invoices, keeping track of and handling new magazines, assisting users with photocopying and the AV booth as well as staying up to date regarding overdue loans and trying to find them on the shelf every Monday morning.
Parallel to these everyday tasks I worked on different interesting side projects. I learned more about the process of weeding and looked through some older donations and non-catalogued books to find Scandinavian literature that might be interesting for the library to add to the collection. I also looked through catalogues for textbooks to find and highlight the ones we currently did not have at the library. Lucile also introduced me to the basics of cataloguing and I got to try and catalogue a few Welsh books, which was not the most straightforward task but I found it interesting. I also looked at Swedish language learning tools online and some Swedish literature that might be of interest to the library. The last couple of weeks meant the end of term time and I helped with printing and sorting final exam papers for listening comprehensions and discourse topics. The very last week of my traineeship was paralleled with a week of intensive courses at the language centre, crucial this week was therefore to support students with finding the right textbook.
Working as a library assistant at the language centre has fulfilled all of my initial expectations of the traineeship. Thanks to Lucile and to this experience I have a deeper understanding of what it is like to work as a librarian in a higher education specialist library environment and I am inspired too seek out a similar role in my future professional life.
Unique experiences and visits
Throughout these two months I have had amazing opportunities to visit and learn more about different libraries in Oxford. During my visits librarians and library staff have passed on information and knowledge to me which combined has given me a unique as well as broad insight into different aspects of the library world of Oxford. I want to express my sincere gratitude to Lucile who organized these visits, without your initiative they would never have taken place. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to all the wonderful people I have met from all the different libraries, you know who you are. I have learned so much from you all and you were all so welcoming and accommodating. Thank you so much for taking the time to meet me!
My first visit: The Music Faculty library
The Music Faculty Library is one of the smaller specialist libraries within the Bodleian Libraries group. At the moment the collection holds 50 000 items which are mainly divided into three broader categories; music scores, books and audio/visual materials. The resources ranges from everything from medieval to folk music to modern hip-hop and jazz. The shelfmarking at the Music Faculty library is mainly done through the Library of Congress system. Consequently, most resources starts with M and are then followed by numbering levels which indicates different categories. Size also has a significant role in shelving the items as some works requires extra space. The library also has a category of short term loans, which are recognizable through a green symbol put on the resource, these are located on a separate shelf. The most used resource tends to be the miniature scores, which needs quite frequent replacement because they get worn out. To inspire users and to make them interested in more obscure or unknown composers I found it interesting that the library every month has a display called “composer of the month”. The display provides information on and highlights the composer in question and presents a number of the library’s resources connected to him/her. In recent years some changes has been made because of the increasing digitalization and online access of different types of resources. For example the Music Faculty Library earlier had a large amount of periodicals which are now mainly to be found online. A room that was used to be described as the listening room now holds computers, however a few older machines are still available if requested by users
One aspect that staff at the Music Faculty Library value very highly are a friendly and more personal service, as well as a focus on complete availability for users. They find it important to stress that they are available for any queries, even though they are a specialist academic music library they want to be inclusive and assist every visitor. However, staff experiences that the library is located a bit out of the way geographically, they believe it can be a bit difficult for users to find. The Bodleian library policy is that every library generally should be the same, but the staff discusses that each library has its own culture, they also feel that the faculties now tends to be more active in their own rights and involving people in different ways. At the same time they think that the Bodleian library system enables meetings and good working relations all over the system with libraries from different areas.
Second visit: Osney one building and the different department teams
The Bodleian library system is one of the biggest university library systems and it binds together all college, faculty and departmental libraries in Oxford. Information given to me by various members of staff from different areas provided me with a general idea about how the Bodleian library system is built up and how interaction between different processes and departments takes place.
The main priority for this department is to handle orders from the subject librarians. The largest budgets for purchases are held by the English faculty and the history faculty. In general there is a distinction between more straightforward and more complex purchases. For example an order that stands on its own is simpler, while a multivolume resource is more complicated to deal with. Orders usually comes through via a function on the webpage but also by email or post. The purchases are mainly done with mainstream suppliers. One staff member explains that it is of great importance to check the place of publication while purchasing resources because it is necessary for the item to be bought form the same place. If that is not possible the item is purchased from the second hand market, directly from the publisher or lastly from Amazon. After an item is purchased and then arrives it is placed on a table to be sent to the next step of the process. This involves creating a record on ALEPH, taking care of the invoice, stamping the item and cataloguing it. The different departments within the Bodleian Library system works closely together, staff stresses that good teamwork and communication is key.
The mechanics of this department mainly takes place through an interface connected to SOLO. When a subject librarian places an order, suppliers are contacted and a decision is being made if a printed, online resource or both is wanted and then an order is set up. When serials arrive the items are put on a table and the staff acknowledge if it is donated, with or without an invoice or if it has an electronic invoice. They also check if it has any duplicates and if the item is unsolicited. Items are then registered through the ALEPH acquisition module and the complete bibliographic information needs to be given. The staff of this department are also responsible for subscriptions. They set up subscriptions on ALEPH and keep close track of the background in case changes are being made. A staff member informs that this process can be complex and that there are always some details to adjust, for example some issues can be missing. They are also responsible for keeping track of payments, every invoice are kept in a particular file. This department originally used to be responsible only for the Bodleian libraries but the responsibility now includes a number of other libraries as well.
For this department the working process begins with a subject librarian placing an order, usually by themselves through the website. Every librarian owns an individual code to be identified by that is linked to their budget. Because the process does not involve physical objects it tends to progress seamlessly and it is also becoming even more fast-moving, as the number of librarians placing orders on e-books are steadily increasing. The process consists of an interchange with electronic data, the team order an item through a website and a record is then made on ALEPH. However, staff still have details to check manually because different suppliers provides different communications and information. The e-books are available through websites that supports different databases, for example ProQuest or EBSCO, and the order is made from various platforms. The type of licences are varied, for example an institutional license allows unlimited use while some textbook publications do not allow multiusers. Some platforms provides access immediately, but in general they all tend to be ready for use within a week. The staff points out that sometimes discounts are offered and if a good deal is possible they tend to carry out massive buys at once. Donations are also made regarding e-books, according to staff problems can arise in connection to publishing and permission, more so than with physical books.
The Bodleian deals with a relatively large amount of donations and items donated are on a vast spectrum, from rare books to LPs to magazines. However, during stressful times the donation tends to take second place while acquisition, subject librarians’ orders and purchases takes priority. This can according to staff be connected to the financial year which starts in august and ends in July. The donations generally originates from 3 different sources: items donated directly from authors, bigger collections donated from professors or individuals who have moved/deceased and lastly through weeding processes from other libraries. Donated material is firstly acknowledged then processed, staff also look for duplicates. Depending on if an items is more or less academic, different bibliographic information is desirable. For example a less academic item might be given only basic information to be searchable on SOLO and ALEPH. Lastly the material is sent to its end destination.
Electronic resources team
This department deals with concerns regarding subscriptions, purchases, databases and collections. They take care of users’ queries or any difficulties with resources that occurs if library staff are unable to solve the problem. They also carry out user statistics that is useful for example in relation to librarians’ budgets and it can provide libraries with insight into which resources are being used the most or which resources needs to be more highlighted. An important task for staff at this department is to provide constant maintenance and update information. However, at the moment staff informs that there are for example about 80 000 journals in the system and therefore they also have to rely in information provided by third parties. The resources are dealt with through the same software from ALEPH and SOLO and a program called EXLIBRIS. Material might have more than one provider, but they are all managed through an administrative interface. Staff explains that there are different regulations connected to database use. Legal or business databases tends to be accessed through single sign in, while academic ones usually give open access.
Legal Deposit team
Since 1610 it has existed a legal deposit connected to the Bodleian libraries made by Sir Thomas Bodley, the right to claim a copy of everything printed in the United Kingdom. In the present time there are two legislations that complement each other. Since 2003 it was established that for every published materials in the United Kingdom a copy should be sent to the Bodleian library and other legal deposit libraries, including the republic of Ireland. Since 2013 the claim also covers all published electronic material. The material being sent to and processed by this department is therefore on a very vast scale, ranging from academic books to children’s books. Every Wednesday there is a delivery, the team unpacks it, process every item and put the very important stamp on it and it then receives a bibliographic record. Staff also utilizes a colour scheme with pieces of paper “flags” in different colours, green, peach blue or red. The different colours are used to identify for other departments the level of information connected to the item. The item is then sent to the cataloguing department where the bibliographic information is fully updated, staff explains that the whole process is very much built on teamwork.
Different categories of resources with different coloured “flags” arrives to this department from the acquisition section, here they rest while being processed. However, some books are already selected, for example if they are requested by a subject librarian to a lower reading room for rare books or manuscripts. The cataloguing itself is done through the ALEPH module and the process is detail-oriented and meticulous. One of the most basic aspects of cataloguing is consistency, to establish controlled vocabularies, standardized forms and preferred terms and there are various cataloguing levels. For example a cataloguer explains how it is important to establish authority files for every person and to catalogue an issue and not an entire volume, there needs to be something added to make the issues distinct. The essential idea behind cataloguing is that every catalogue should come up with the same solution regarding a record, standardization is key and the larger record you can come up with the better it is for users, explains the cataloguer. The staff member also discusses how the cataloguing is linked to a number of external databases and some of them is ranked lower than others, for example those that anyone can create records in without having any knowledge of cataloguing. As the department sometimes is pressed for time, some content is not mandatory and in some cases you have to rely on batch database downloads and work from other people.
At the moment there are about 1 million E-books on SOLO and the majority of them can be accessed indefinitely. This department work towards making them accessible online after a purchase. The access is reached through a link, a record is created on ALEPH and a number of fields needs to be filled in, however this is now a standardized process. The department also deal with adapting e-books to local use and keeps track of how it is displayed in SOLO. Staff explains that RTP is something very important in dealing with e-resources and it is used extensively. The process of downloading items to the system is done through “batch loading”, meaning it loads all items at once as e –books come in packages. A MARC format is usually from the start, but edits needs to be made for it to fit in to SOLO and be of the right format. The system also provides the possibility to do all the edits at once. A member of staff explains that problems can occur regarding updates, in some instances it is not clear if the content is static or if differences has been made. Some resources could have an open ended publication date.
This department deals with, processes and stores resources on backlog. The most important thing for the team when an item arrive is to identify the colour of the piece of paper flag that is placed within the item earlier by another department. There are four different types of colours. Green means that the item’s record is already perfect, however the team need to double check and confirm this. The peach-coloured paper means that the record for the item is alright but not more and that and that it will be batch uploaded. The blue coloured flag means that the record provides very little to no information, for example it only gives the name of the author. This means that staff will have to work to perfect the record. The team is mainly responsible for producing top catalogue records and complete bibliographic information. Some members of staff also deals with creating subject headings. This can be a lengthy process and one staff member describes how it can take months for it to be approved because you have to justify the subject headings in different ways in relation to an items content. Staff describes that dealings with some items are more straightforward than others, for example children’s books or fiction while academic books or works on different specialist areas tends to be more complicated and time consuming.
Third visit: The Taylor institution library
The collections at the Taylor institution library mainly relates to modern European languages and literature, but there are also collections directed towards women’s studies, linguistics and film studies. The Taylorian is a part of the humanities libraries in Oxford and has close links to the Sackler library, the English as well as the History faculty libraries. The Taylorian was established by Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788), an architect who enjoyed traveling. Taylor was of the opinion that the importance of learning and preserving modern European languages needed to be highlighted, hence the establishment of a library connected to the purpose; to promote awareness of modern languages. The main building dates from the 19th century but an expansion of the building took place in 1930.
The Taylorian is partly a lending library with books and DVDs but it also holds a large number of items used only for reference. It is also possible for library users to order books from other libraries and use them in one of the Taylorian reading or working rooms. A large number of the library’s resources are available online, staff explains that a project carried out by Google to digitalize old material included some items from the Taylorian library. The library regularly organizes different lectures related to various parts of the collections and every new term some of the subject librarians hold talks for new students.
Located by the enquiry desk is a display with new books, which are continuously updated. As I learned from my visit to Osney, a subject librarian has a budget for purchasing items. Regarding orders and purchases from the Taylorian, a staff member explains that if a user requests something an order tends to be placed quite quickly and without trouble, as orders are often related to research regarding a very specific subject or thesis work. The biggest part of the material in the Taylorian are resources in French, Italian, German and Slavic languages (mostly Russian) as well as items related to library science. To support undergraduates, the library also provides a specific teaching collection consisting of a large amount of material typically used by this group. At the same time there is an upstairs collection which holds more obscure resources and a room which holds rare and very old material. These items can be requested by users and be used only as a reference in the library.
The shelfmarkings are done through the Library of congress system. However, because of a regulation ten years back that Oxford libraries should strive to shelfmark items in line with the library of congress standards, old shelfmarking still exists on a large number of resources. A staff member explains that this can be confusing for users as it is not straightforward how to navigate and find items marked using two different systems. Staff in the library are continuously working on reorganizing the old shelfmarking to library of congress but this is a time-consuming process and a long term project. A staff member predicts that due to the large amount of time, resources, money and staff a complete reorganization would require, the old and the new shelfmarks will probably continue to coexist for a long time. Some items are without shelfmark on the spine, for example rare books and older material, as they are sensitive to damage. During my visit I noticed some aspects related to contrasts between the old and the new. For example a staff member tells me that the first librarian in charge used to live in the building, there are still traces left, for example a number of fireplaces and small rooms that were used as bedrooms. Until recent years it used to be a specific Taylorian head librarian, now there is a head librarian over all of the humanities libraries. A staff member showed me an abandoned linguistic room that can no longer be used due to new health safety regulations, the room had to be completely emptied and the material integrated into the other collections. I am informed that they are continuously striving to adapt the old building for all users, for example a ramp has been added as well as some adjustable tables in the reading and working rooms.
Fifth visit: Wadham College, the main library, the stacks and the Persian section
Wadham College was founded in 1610 by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham. During the establishment they received donations from wealthy connections, amongst them an entire library collection with rare books. During my visit I got to see three different areas related to the Wadham college library; the main library, the Persian collection and the rare books stack.
The books kept here consists mainly of donations from different time periods. The donations mostly originates from fellows of the university and are kept in chronological order. The staff member working in the rare book stacks is continually cataloguing and adding items to the online catalogue. It is a work in progress as there are so many of them and some very difficult to catalogue due to the age and nature of the book. This area also has a separate room called the A section with even more rare and valuable books and manuscripts. One highlight was that I had the opportunity to have a closer look at an almost thousand-year-old manuscript.
The main library originates from 1976 but some recent adjustments have been made. A security system was installed some time ago and the enquiry desk rebuilt to be more user friendly and convenient for the librarian. A separate discussion room was also established, mainly due to the fact that the general sound level in the library is supposed to be low. The room is used for introductions as well as presentations for exams. Wadham college library is a lending library but also holds a large amount of reference materials. Loans are done through a self-issue machine, for returns there is a drop box. There are also computers with a welcome screen were users can find a complete guide to the library, resources, accessibility and facilities. This is also accessible via the web and it shows a virtual tour of the library, which is convenient because during some opening hours the library is unstaffed. The library tries to make improvements for users with disabilities, for example wheelchair friendly worktables and study rooms, but some architectural features of the building makes it problematic. There are also some future plans regarding sustainability, to replace the lighting with LED lamps, which will half the cost.
This collection consists of different resources and genres in Arabic and Persian and they are like other recourses shelfmarked according to the library of congress standard. A member of staff explains that they are also organized in connection with how they relate to the time of the Iranian revolution. This area also has a room for rare manuscripts and some lithographs. A staff member explains that it is a substantial ongoing project to digitalize items from the Persian collection for the Bodleian libraries.
Sixth visit: The Social science library
Social science library
This library mostly deals with resources connected to politics, economics and social science, it also holds material with an historical angle connecting to these subjects. These subjects used to each have their own library but in 2004 they were combined into the social science library, the 3rd largest university library with about 9000 users per year. It is a lending library with some reference material, the library also offer 3 hour short loans for high in demand items. Opening hours are long, until 10 pm every day. The shelfmarking is like other Bodleian libraries done according to library of congress standard. The library also has a new books display, which includes periodicals and printed cover of new e books. The enquiry desk is placed right at the entrance and here it is also possible to buy stationary items which is very appreciated and useful for students. There are very large open spaces for studying and reading and tables specifically appropriated for laptops, however, since the library’s architecture is very open it can be problematic. Some important adjustment have been made for users with disabilities, adjustable tables and a machine with a magnifier that for example can scan texts and read it out loud, the library received a specific budget for this purpose. There are some quiet rooms that you can book for different purposes which are very high in demand. There are also rooms for graduate students, presentations and discussions, as well as teaching rooms were different courses are held and organized by the library. The social science library is dedicated to working for sustainability and they always try to promote recycling and saving of energy in any way they can. There is a large team working at the library and it benefits from the fact that different areas are working together, for example a staff member points out that it is very convenient to have the direct presence of system staff and to have the cataloguing done at the library.
Seventh visit: The Latin American centre library
The LAC library is one of the smaller specialist libraries within the Bodleian libraries group. It is a lending and reference library mainly aimed at postgraduate students and the collection consist of resources connected to Latin American politics, social science and economics. The library also holds a historic collection with its main focus on the 20th century. Three reading rooms are available at the library and one of them also works as a room for seminars. There is a new book display highlighting recent purchases and the library is also subscribed to a number of journals both academic and non-academic and some of them are rare.
During my two day visit I had the opportunity to partake in a current project of creating space that is undertaken at the LAC library. I helped with the first step in the project which meant searching from different lists of items to find specific books on the shelves to be sent to the storage that is located in Swindon. I also helped with tasks related to handling the library’s donations. I checked for availability of donated books in the Bodleian library system and then added donated books to the catalogue using ALEPH acquisition system. Members from staff also showed me the library’s social media outlets and how they work with and continuously add titles to a site for users called LibraryThing. It was very rewarding to get a hands on experience and to be a small part of the project in some way, it also gave me an opportunity to experience more directly aspects of how the librarians and library assistants work at the LAC library.
Last visit: Oxfordshire county public library and storage at Holton with bibliotherapy resources
The Oxfordshire county library recently had a massive refurbishing, it has been on the site for over 40 years but since the expansion of the Westgate shopping centre it has undergone a transformation. The focus has been on being user friendly in every way and that is visible as soon as you step in. Here you can find a space with browsing in mind, heavy on visual display to inspire users and invite them in to serendipitous browsing. Conveniently located nearby is also self-issue machines for returning and borrowing items. As you step further in there is an enquiry desk located at the centre and all around in a wave like pattern are shelfs with different categories of resources for lending. Shelfmarking is done through the Dewey decimal system, but the organization of different areas have again browsing users in mind. On this floor there are both computers for searching the catalogue as well as bookable or 15 minutes drop in computers. After the refurbishing the library also put more resources into crating a young adult section to inspire users within that age group. The staff at the Oxfordshire county library tends to be either professional librarians and then have a more county wide responsibility or have a professional role tied to costumer services. Due to cuts in funding there are no library assistants, instead the library gets support from volunteers. Another new initiative is a popular makerspace area. Here the library holds a large number of different activities for users, for example digital learning, a language centre café or knitting clubs. On the other side of the entrance is the children’s library. Due to the transformation this area has expanded. Similarly there are computers, although filtered, an enquiry desk and different categories of resources shelfmarked through the Dewey system. It was interesting to see that the children’s library promotes resources aimed at individuals with dyslexia.
Before the refurbishing the second floor held to a large extent reference materials, but now a staff member explains that they strive to invite people to use this floor more and to make it more open. There are still some reference materials on this floor and there are more tables for studying, but most of the material users can lend. This floor also holds an area with computers dedicated to local and family history research. There are also computers on this floor that has been made more protected and available for users who need to use them for tasks related to integrity. Lastly this floor has a vast area dedicated to resources connected to music, complete with a piano available for users to borrow.
After visiting the public library I had the opportunity to see the storage in Holton and the bibliotherapy resources. Bibliotherapy, which I want to simplify as viewing reading and literature as a tool to support mental and/or physical health, was the subject for my Masters dissertation. I investigated different aspects of bibliotherapy and looked into a number of public librarian’s attitudes towards implementing elements from bibliotherapy in public library services. There were different materials at Holton connected to different elements of bibliotherapy. Firstly there is an outreach program, it can be seen as a kind of personal and individual book service which allows members of staff to provide users who are unable to lend items themselves with what they want or need. A member of staff explains that this kind of service has turned out to be very in demand. There is also a storage for distribution of some bibliotherapuetic books aimed at children and young people. These books have different themes that is available to browse through via an index, for example death, bullying or identity. This collection has been built up over a number of years and there is a small budget connected to purchases within this area, it is up to the librarian in charge to make selections. Another resource with elements from bibliotherapy is the reminiscence packs. These are packages containing items designed for users with dementia or different disabilities and are organized under different themes, for example childhood or school. The packages are part of a national initiative called “Reading Well” but are distributed in collaboration with the library. Many public Libraries also actively engage in health promotion in different ways, for example via leaflets or on the web page there are a list of mood bosting reads and self-help books or links to helpful information, also in collaboration with the initiative “Reading Well”.
My time as an Erasmus student has been so rewarding, in relation to my future professional role in the library and information science field as well as in connection to my personal development. I am deeply grateful to the language centre for providing me with this opportunity. A big thank you to all the members of staff at the language centre, you have been very kind, welcoming and helpful. The language centre is a place that unites people and working or being a student here is a great way to meet and connect with people from different cultures and across language barriers. I highly recommend anyone with an interest or some experience in fields related to library and information science to apply for this traineeship. You will not regret it and probably will, as I, want to stay. In conclusion I can only say that this work experience has turned out to be the perfect ending with the completion of my Master’s degree.
(All photos taken by me)