Final installment of posts so far (number three- Hidden Relics)

This morning I had a tour of the safes; six floors of restricted material that is conserved under lock and key in carefully conditioned accommodation. Though the library prides itself on its liberal lending policies and its ratio of open shelving to restricted access material, it is crucial that these relics of biblophilia are maintained to the highest standards. The status of the books is due to an amalgamation of reasons; most of the books are both valuable and old. Some have been locked away due to legal reasons and some contain controversial or frowned upon content.

The material is stored in locked shelving spaces with temperature, light and humidity controls. Future plans of the library involve upgrading the storage spaces and better equipping them to provide optimum conditions. Some of the older books have visible signs of insect infestations… who knew book worms were real? It is a sad but true fact that pages of literary genius can synonymously be excellent breading grounds for certain book pests. This is why optimum conditions are essential.

Amongst the collection there were certainly some exciting artefacts such as the King James Bible which is beautifully bound with metal cornices. The item somewhat controversially contains a typo that mistakenly expresses “she” instead of “he” triggering outlandish speculation.

A Henry III book shared similar notoriety for its infamous religious doctrines that so manifestly opposed the pope. Initially stemming from an attempt to obtain permission of a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII admonished Rome’s claim on The Church in England and in 1534, decreed the Royal Act of Supremacy, reclaiming the powers that Rome had appropriated. The next few years saw increasing alterations to religious doctrine encouraging evangelical attitudes. Yet another hot slice of history pie that the library has served up.
The library also holds elaborate bindings published by the one and only William Morris, the pre-Raphaelite whose own death was said to have been diagnosed as “being William Morris”. The ubiquitous aesthete spent his lifetime applying himself exhaustingly to a multi-faceted array of endeavours, including textile designing, poetry, social activism and literature, a lifestyle that very few people could realistically maintain.
Moving seamlessly from aestheticism to decadence, the library also holds, as part of its rare book collection, the “yellow book” of the fin de siècle. The journal celebrated the more decadent aspects of turn-of-the-century literature, art and poetry which had a heavy French influence. The usual suspects were affiliated with the publication such as Arthur Symons, Henry James, H.G Wells and Yeats with Aubrey Beardsley designing the iconic covers.

Other notable collections were that of The Roxburgh club, of which the library holds a complete set. Established in 1812, The Roxburgh club is an elite alliance whose membership is restricted to forty people at any time. As a prerequisite for being a member the individual must produce a book to their own expense. Though the content of the pages is down to the individual, the rules stipulate that the book must be finished to the highest standards of the club. Publications are often limited so the collection is rather rare and exclusive. Just the name of the club is enough to induce images of brandy-swigging, pipe-smoking, monocle-clad, posh old men reclining in audacious red velvet upholstered arm chairs.

Our tour host all the while filled our hungry minds with true stories of real life book thieves that operated in this very library and others across Europe. One man was incarcerated and deemed “A sad little man” by the judge who condemned him; amusingly this fact is reiterated in the front of the books on a conspicuous, laminated plaque, may the book thief be forever shamed.

I have fully relayed the zeniths of the tour but potential future blog posts may well probe further into the findings of these interesting artefacts. Sometimes the end of something is actually only the beginning.

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Posts so far (number two)

Today I had my second session with Gosia in country orders. I felt privileged knowing we are only the second year of graduate trainees who have been formally introduced to the department. It served to add yet another dimension to the multi-faceted services the library offers its members.
Country members are defined by anyone living outside of the twenty mile radius of the library; members falling under this bracket receive and return books via postal delivery. Gosia also deals with the inter-library loan service whereby other libraries can request to borrow books from our shelves and likewise; this is facilitated by copac.

My session today dealt predominantly with inter-library loans and the processing of requests. A lot of books in the collection are old, rare or valuable and therefore we must assess the risks posed in lending them elsewhere not to mention the damage caused by postage. A quick valuation is executed using bookfinder.com or ABE books, we compare the products available with the ones we have ourselves and if the price is to great or availability is scarce, the library holds the right to refuse inter-library requests.
I was also shown briefly how to respond to a member of our library requesting to borrow from another library and how to apply. It was nice to immerse myself in a new learning curve because sometimes, and this was no exception, further learning forces current knowledge to click into place.

Posts so far (number one)

So, after a full three weeks into my graduate traineeship, I’ve decided to finally write a little about the things I’m so rapidly learning. The learning curve has been so steep and having just been handed the upcoming training induction schedule sheet, it doesn’t seem to be on the decline any time soon! I wanted to give my perspective on all things so far whilst “in medias res”, as it were: in the middle of the learning curve.
My first week passed by in a maze-like haze; the building sprawls out from the deceptively small front entrance revealing a network of stacks, staircases and corridors. After meeting the other graduate trainee and having a re-introductory tour around the library on our first day, we were sent on our first task of book fetching. This has proved by far to be the best means of becoming familiar with layout and classification system. I also have my suspicions this has been the predominating factor in the swift development of my alphabet skills (alphabet skills meaning: my ability to decipher which letter comes next without having to internally sing the alphabet song). It is important to note that I would never have the audacity to admit that this was the process I used until the other graduate trainee admitted this was also her chosen method!

The latter part of the week brought aleph training; the library’s circulation software and we were thrown to the proverbial lions manning the desk! (Okay so I would hardly call the library members lions but I did say proverbial). Though quite daunting at first, the thorough training combined with the patience and understanding of the member services team meant that I quickly built up confidence and became comfortable navigating Aleph and learning how to deal with patron enquiries regarding circulation of their library accounts. To my absolute joy, I get to stamp the books in and out (red for returns, black for issues). The juvenile pleasure one receives from this is very comparable to that of discovering the dwindling necessity of the alphabet song.
Slowly but surely, light has since begun to shine on other mysteries such as the process for dealing with issuing rare or valuable books to members (which involves trundling up copious metal steps and fiddling with various different locks to release said material – not to mention the phone you have to take with you in case you get locked in or the fire alarm goes off and you can’t hear it!). General inquiries have become a little less frightening in correlation with a general familiarisation to the place and inductions with the inquiries team and the cataloguing team whose sessions have added a deeper dimension to circumnavigating e-journals, e-resources and the old printed catalogues.

Other significant developments are that I have been allocated my own stacks, to my great joy my section is H. England, social&. – H. Huns. The H classifies history and within this bracket falls, England, France and Germany. Due to one of the numerous quirks of the library; the World Wars also fall into this category. That is primarily because the collection was labelled The European War; in the unsuspecting minds of bibliographic services in 1918, there were no plans for a second war.
There are many more Victorian quirks that the library has retained over the years but I shall leave these delights for a later post.

Back to Blogging

So I’ve been more than absent for the last few months but my life has been pretty hectic. In September I started my graduate trainee-ship in London (unfortunately I can’t discuss which library it is until the social media policy is blueprinted). I am now into my sixth week and so far I’m loving library life. Obviously the habitat is a haven, you can almost breathe the academia through your lungs and i’m intoxicated with the “free bar” of books and journals I have access to. More than anything, I feel absolutely privileged to have become a part of the every-day fabric of a library that has played a significant role in knitting the bones of literature and culture in England for almost a hundred and fifty years. The staff and members of the institution are bound by a bilateral affliction with learning, education and the establishment itself and these attitudes transpire to create a uniquely wonderful atmosphere in which to work and develop. As a graduate trainee, I am truly given the opportunity to explore the multi-faceted aspects academic librarianship. The program so far has been thorough and all-encompassing, offering inductions to all departments so we can learn about the different functions within libraries.

I have written a few posts already without publishing them, I am going to retrospectively publish them now and hopefully, I can continue to add all the things I learn as I advance and I (and anyone considering librarianship as a career) can use the blog as an in depth account of the inauguration and cultivation of a career in libraries. Enjoy…