Posts Tagged special collections

Libday8 – Graduate Trainee Session

Second Post for Library Day in the Life Project- Round 8.

As a graduate trainee at an Oxford college library, I am able to take part in the Bodleian library trainee scheme.  This involves attending sessions on Wednesday afternoons to learn about different aspects of librarianship and have the opportunity to develop different skills related to work in the library.  So far sessions have included topics such as; customer care, enquiry skills, resource discovery (using SOLO – Oxford’s library catalogue) and ‘career craft’ (advice on applying to Library School).  Last week I also had the opportunity to visit Oxford Brookes library to learn about how their library operates and what they offer their readers.


This week, trainees had the opportunity to learn more about special collections, archives and manuscripts.

The session began with an introduction to Special Collection activities at the Bodleian Library and Western Manuscripts.  Activities were broken down into three main tasks:

  • Acquire
  • Process
  • Market

What I found most interesting about these activities were the number of challenges faced by the special collections team. For example, raising the funds to acquire and process collections was a key issue – archivists are often hired temporarily by ‘project’ and the level of detail in which the project can be catalogued and archived depends on the amount of funding available.  There are also debates within the archiving community about whether or not the current level of detail is too rigorous, which means asking for funding can be even tougher!

I was also surprised to learn that eBay is a source of acquisition! Though often collections sold through eBay can be problematic – not least the issue of authenticity but also with collections being sold in ‘lots’ and ending up split and incomplete.


Following the introduction, we were then taken to visit three archivists to find out more about their roles at the Bodleian and Western Archives.

1. Cataloguing Archives:

When a new collection arrives it has to be catalogued into the archive.  The time this takes can vary depending on the amount of material.  The process involves various steps including: boxing the collection, listing items in the box, alphabetizing, creating a catalogue description and foliating.  The archivist also has to be aware of and deal with a number of legal issues when preparing the collection for viewing by researchers.

2. Digital Archives:

More resources arrive at archives in a digital form and the digital archivist faces the challenge of integrating a number of digital formats (some very much out of date!) into a user friendly, one platform format that readers and researchers can access more effectively.  The digital archivist is also focused on acquiring copies of internet resources (websites) related to current archive collections.

The idea of digitizing all of the collections in the Bodleian archives was raised and while digitization has many positive aspects, such as accessibility and as a revenue source, the practicalities and expense involved make it an unrealistic goal.

3. Saving Oxford Medicine:  

One of the current projects at Western Manuscripts –to find out more click here.


The session ended in the best of ways – with tea and biscuits!


Prior to this trainee session I’d had an interest in special collections as it appealed to my love of history but I didn’t know much more about what the role involved.  The session really helped me to understand the challenges facing the profession and the fascinating and diverse materials archivists are able to engage with and preserve.


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