From Russian maps to ipads: the 2012 Oxford trainee project showcase

A couple of weeks ago the Oxford trainees gathered for a day of presentations, a free lunch and an excellent variety of  biscuits.  The aim was to share what we had been working on over the year, as well as developing our presentation skills.  A fellow trainee has written the official blog post for our trainee blog, but I’m hoping that I will remember useful things about the day if I write about it myself too.  So without further ado, here are my summaries of all fifteen presentations!

*On a side note, we also managed to rescue a goldfish over lunch, so all in all a successful day*

Showcase Invitation

1. The History Faculty Library on the move

First up was the HFL trainee talking about the upcoming move of the entire history faculty library to the Radcliffe Camera (which is the famous building pictured above).  It’s a big event for many reasons, including the mixing of lending and non-lending collections in the central Bodleian.  The trainee project was to make a video introduction to the new history library using Captivate, which is going to be embedded in the website to introduce readers to the new building.  It’s going to be a big change for readers so lots of communication will definitely be necessary so that they don’t wander round lost and confused!

2. Tracking down mysterious Russian maps

Next to a college library project – and one that made me slightly jealous that I don’t work in a college library full of hidden treasures (don’t get me wrong, I love the Law Library, but there’s a noticeable lack of undiscovered chests full of enlightenment maps).  All Souls Library, however, did have a hidden chest full of enlightenment maps, and this trainee project was basically to locate them, which was easier said than done.  It was a library-based mystery, beginning with an obscure reference found in an eighteenth century college minutes book. The All Souls trainee and her colleagues hunted through lists and books for other mentions of the maps, were led up blind alleys of mis-recording, and finally stumbled upon them in a giant wooden press.  The moral of the tale is that we can’t rely on the computerised library catalogue for everything, and there are still uncatalogued treasures hidden away waiting to be found.

3. Reclassifying linguistics

Another college, and the first of the day’s reclassification based talks (there’s a lot of reclassifying going on in Oxford at the moment).  The St Hilda’s trainee was responsible for reclassifying their undergraduate collection of linguistics books, which had been hard to browse because their classification system wasn’t specific enough.  She took us through the process, which included researching other libraries’ ways of classifying linguistics, working out which scheme would fit their collection the best, and using online research to find the best shelfmark for the books.  In the end they looked much more organised, so hopefully the St Hilda’s readers will find the new system useful when they get back after the summer break!  This presentation was the only one that used Prezi (the rest of us stuck to PowerPoint), and I was very impressed.  I’ve found Prezi sometimes makes me feel a bit sick, but there wasn’t too much whizzing about and it worked really well.  Maybe something for me to try next time.

4. Cataloguing the architects’ plans of Nuffield College

There was a definite map and plan based theme in some of the talks, which made an interesting change from books.  Although the Nuffield College trainee project looked like very hard work (digging through the many thousands of architects’ plans for the college, which were kept in the basement, cataloguing them and storing them safely), it seemed a worthwhile thing to do, as they had already had an enquiry from a firm of architects about the plans.  The trainee was inputting metadata about the plans into a database, so that they would be easily searchable.   Some had a lot of information to put in the database, and some were just pencil sketch plans, with no title, date, name or place, so the trainee had to really work with what she had.  She dug up some interesting facts about the original college designs – apparently the architect initially wanted to give it a Middle Eastern air but college founder Lord Nuffield was having none of it!

5. The history of the EFL

I was sad to hear during this talk that the St Cross building, which houses both the English Faculty Library and the Law Library was voted the ugliest building in Oxford.  Here it is, in all its 1960s grade 2 listed glory…

St Cross Building. Photo by stevecadman and shared on flickr under a creative commons license.

Not too bad, right?

Anyway, the EFL trainee project was to make a pamphlet and an exhibition about the history of the library – she had to dig around in the archives, which are held in other parts of the university, to find material.  The EFL has been rehomed a few times since it was founded, including at one point in a cramped little attic with a beetle infestation, has had a series of prestigious alumni who have kindly donated books for the rare books room and had a committee at one point who were most concerned about where in the new building they should put the wine cupboard.  It’s amazing what anecdotes you can discover in archives, and it sounds like the pamphlet went down well with the students and with open day visitors.  At the end, we got to watch Hot Girls in the EFL, which was part of a musical put on by Oxford students (slightly sexist but quite amusing, and you get to see the library).

Developing the Jesubite collection.

If anyone didn’t know, a ‘Jesubite’ is a member or alumnus of Jesus College, Oxford.  I like to hear about what goes on in college libraries, because they’re quite unique, and totally different from the subject based university libraries.  The Jesus trainee was developing the Jesubite collection, material about, by, or donated by alumni of the college.  There were some interesting characters in the Jesus alumni, from T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) to the son of the founder of cremation in Britain (who was apparently a druid).  The trainee has been reclassifying the collection and writing a collection development policy – they don’t want everything to do with old members because of space constraints, but they hope to develop it in future.  She also did a survey of other college libraries and found that their old members’ collections were usually lending collections, so their collection is now available to be borrowed.

Making a LibGuide on apps for the social sciences.

We all got to pass round the shiny new Social Science Library ipad in this talk, and it increased my ipad envy.  The aim of the SSL ipad was so that library staff could become accustomed to new technology and would be able to help readers with it.  It’s a good idea, as I sometimes feel that I am falling behind in the knowledge of this kind of mobile technology, simply because I can’t really afford it – I’m still pretty laptop based, although if my phone’s in a good mood, it might occasionally allow me to check Facebook.  The SSL trainee had researched all kinds of apps that might be useful for social sciences students (referencing, databases, personal scanners etc.) and had created an online guide with some of the best one she’d discovered.  She had found the sheer number of apps available quite daunting, and it was difficult to tell which were actually any good, but having the ipad was definitely an advantage as she could play around and try them out.  The LibGuide will be live very soon.

Extreme reclassification : Moysing the Law Library

This was MY presentation!  I’d like to blog about this properly, so I won’t dwell on it now, but briefly it was about the long-running project in the Law Library to reclassify all the 90,000 monographs to the Moys classification scheme in order to make it easier for readers to browse by subject.  At the moment we’re elbow deep in monographs, spreadsheets and label remover in the library, so I’ll leave you with a photo of the Scottish law section all ready to be Moysed and put back on the shelf…

Scottish Law ready to be Moysed

Extracting and preserving the contents of Mini-DV cassettes

This presentation was a nice change from library based projects, as it was given by the FutureArch trainee , who works with the Bodleian digital archives.  She talked about the difficulty of preserving video – so much is stored on out-of-date equipment, it’s very fragile, copying it onto other systems might make it lose quality.  Mini-DV cassettes are little cassettes which were used mainly for home videoing, so lots of interesting archival material are stored on them, but you can’t really buy any new technology to play them, as they have been replaced so quickly by hard drives.  It was really interesting to learn about the challenges of preserving non-paper materials, as it’s not something you get to hear about very often, but it’s surely going to get more and more important as time goes on.

Reclassifying and dragging back

We’re back to reclassifying again here, this time a section of the Lower Reading Room at the main Bodleian which the trainee was trying to integrate with the rest of the collection and free up some shelf space.  It showed what a feat of organisation reclassification and book moving actually is.  His spreadsheet looked incredibly complicated and he explained how unforseen problems often cropped up – from not being able to find the record on the system and not being able to find the book at all, to the physical task of lugging the books around.

Library communications

The other trainee from the SSL had taken a different approach to the project – she had gone round visiting other libraries and seeing how they communicated with their readers.  Her presentation was a shortened version of a report that she had put together, which hopefully will come in useful when the libraries are looking at communication in the future.  She showed that each library had to focus on many different methods of communication, from signage in the library space to social media presence.  It was interesting to see the positive aspects of some of the Oxford libraries, as well as where they had room for improvement!

Fiedler online

The Taylor Slavonic trainee talked about turning ‘dusty stuff’ – in this case, letters written by Professor Fiedler, first professor of German at Oxford University – into an online resource.  He had been single handedly digitising the letters and building a very impressive database and website to show them off with.  Although there was sadly a lot of computer language talk that bypassed me a bit (really need to start learning it at some point), the concept made sense – putting a website and a database together so that people could search for the letters of Hermann Fiedler by name, location and subject matter, and see a digitised copy along with the record.  You can see the website (still under construction) here.

Law and order in the library

The last college library talk of the day was another overview of different libraries, this time focussing on library rules and regulations.  The St Hugh’s trainee had found some amusing rules from the 15th century, some of which were similar to our own (don’t deface the books), and some of which were probably not (don’t let women into the library).  Then she went on to talk about how library rules worked at Oxford and how students responded to them.  She has helpfully put an extended version of her slide show on her blog so you can read all about it for yourselves.

Producing online resources for for ArcGIS mapmaking software

More maps!  And some mapmaking software I had never heard of – hence the need to make resources for it.  The Radcliffe Science Library has just had this software installed on some of its computers, and it is really useful for anyone doing any kind of spatial analysis or mapmaking.  However, as the current resources for it are quite technical and jargon heavy, the RSL trainee produced some easy-to-read resources for the novice user.  This was a good example of librarians not just being about books – the RSL trainee’s experience of using the ArcGIS software during her science degree gave her the right expertise to write some really helpful guides for library users who didn’t know a lot about the software.  The RSL is one of the best libraries in Oxford for new technology, so it is always interesting to see what they are working on in this field.

Building a database to record the history of the Oxford Union

Last, but certainly not least, the Oxford Union library trainee talked about her crash course in database building, and the attempt to create a searchable database of information about the history of the Union itself.  The Oxford Union was founded in 1823 and as well as having a library and bar, is also famous for organising debates and speakers to entertain its members.  It’s also run by a committee, and union committee members are known for later becoming successful politicians/ other important folks.  So the Union library gets a lot of enquiries about past members, past debates, minutes of committee meetings, but up until now has had no way of searching for them.  We saw lots of complicated plans for the database which reminded me of another thing I should put on my ‘lists of things to learn how to do’ – build an Access database – and it looks like it will be a really valuable resource once it’s finished.  We were warned though, a database isn’t useful without a huge amount of data entry, so there’s a lot of work still left to go!

If anyone has got to the end of this post, well done!  It’s a bit of a lengthy post, but I thought it was worth including all the presentations as they were all quite different.  We all had a good (if nerve wracking) day, and many thanks to all supervisors and other library staff who came to see us.