I am the Librarian at St Hugh’s College Library in Oxford: The Howard Piper Library. The College has about 700 students (undergraduates and graduates) and is situated in beautiful grounds in north Oxford. The view from my office window looks out on our renowned garden and always surprises me by its splendour.
The Howard Piper Library is one of biggest college libraries in Oxford. This is notably due to its historical heritage: founded in 1886, the College was for woman only and, as they were not allowed into the central library until the early 1920s, Women's College libraries tend to have been built up larger collections to respond to that issue. St Hugh’s has about 80,000 books held mainly on open access. We also do have a small Special Collection with such wonders as a 1st edition of Hobbe’s Leviathan. I am responsible for the management and development of the collection as well as for providing information, resources and services to members of the College. Managing the library collection includes managing risks, opportunities, challenges and value of the collection. So let me talk you through a typical day in the library…
I arrive in College between 8:30 and 9:00 and the first thing I do is to have a coffee while checking my emails. The Senior Library Assistant goes through the morning daily tasks and there are always unexpected tasks for me such as emailing our students regarding food in the library, or our security alarm. Going through my emails I respond to queries from students and Fellows, as well as dealing with emails regarding overdue books, meetings, or training. At any time, I like walking around the library – students then have the opportunity to catch me and ask questions, or just have a chat, and I have the opportunity to remind them that no cans of coke or other liquids as well as no chocolate bars are allowed in the library.
This morning I have a meeting with the management team of College. The team constitutes Head of Departments in College in a roundtable where we discuss particular topics, events of the week and share good practices. This usually could take up quite a bit of time depending on what is happening in College. There are also a lot of emails that are circulated from this team which requires time.
One of my primary tasks is acquisition of new and relevant materials for the students. We do not specialise in any subject and I work very closely with our College Fellows who in the best scenarios are very willing and proactive at providing reading lists and emailing me every time there is a new publication of a relevant book in their subject.
I also liaise with subject librarians in the different faculties to obtain new reading lists. I spend a fair amount of my time liaising with academics and librarians and ordering books. Moreover, we also have a book suggestion form that students use to recommend books from their core course reading lists. This is rather popular among our students and on a daily basis I look into their recommendations and correspond with them. If their request is successful, I’ll order the book and let them know.
Most days, I’ll have a small pile of books that the Senior Library Assistant leaves on my desk which requires cataloguing, I also have regular meetings with the team, the archivist, the bursar, and I write policies and proposals for our library committee to discuss and approve. While term is going ever so fast, I am thinking ahead and planning projects for the vacation periods – the most recent ones have been to write an in-house classification scheme for our English section to follow the curriculum and to reclassify over 7000 books over the summer. All of this is happening while we cover the enquiries of students walking into the office because they couldn't find a book, or who need a book from the stack, or can’t find an article, or just need a stapler!
At some point in the day I have lunch, probably sat next to one of our Fellows, where discussion on the library continues, and as a result, books will be bought, Fellows will come to the library to look at their section, reading lists will be sent…or in some cases a discussion goes on and nothing will happen. I have to say that I feel very lucky at St Hugh’s, Fellows really value and appreciate the Library and are ready to get involved.
While I am writing this note, I’m looking through the office door, the lobby area is full of students working away, my emails have grown since the last time I checked and I have a pile of books on my desk waiting for me…the day is not over yet