Don’t Stop! Your Reading! Hold on to that Fielding!

13 May 2020|Sophie Quantrell

  • Library, Arts & Archives

Modern libraries are places that encourage remote working. We took the chains off the books years ago and, for the most part, it is no longer necessary to stay in the library to read. People take books and resources and squirrel them away at home until they don’t need them anymore. That is nothing new. The key part, though, has been that there are librarians at the library with access to the resources, scanning equipment and reference books. At the moment, that is not possible. The doors are locked and our resident giant spider is reigning solo.

So, with the fantastic St P’s-in-the-East sitting enshrined in metaphorical mothballs for a bit, what are we actually doing?

Like many other university staff, the librarians are working from home. Whilst we are extremely grateful to still be able to work, there have been some adjustments to make! I have housemates and James has a family so our working hours have become a little more stretched out to fit around life at home. I have found it easiest to structure my day around what it would have been had we been working as normal.

Before 9am is the normal checking of the email, having breakfast and planning which jobs need to be done today. Our house has had a pause in all work from 9-9.30 most mornings to take part in Joe Wicks’ PE lessons which has been an absolute horror show (up-down planks, anybody?!) but takes the place of the walk into college and we’re all ready to sit down and work afterwards.

Laptop of college librarian in his home
College Librarian's working from home setup

We have been relatively busy especially as term has started. It is very different from coming in and talking to real life students but we are still communicating with lots of you fairly regularly via email and mid-week meetings. We’re also in the planning stages of a few get-together ideas so we may see more of you soon!

Fairly predictably, our most important job at the moment is taking book requests. This is a little more complicated than usual as our options for getting material to students are limited. We can’t access any of our existing stock so there are two main avenues that we can explore and adapt to each situation.

The first thing we look at is whether there is an electronic copy available or not. There are a number of online sources that are proving particularly useful. I will include a selection at the end for anyone who may be interested. If the book is not on one of these, we may ask the Bodleian to purchase an ebook version. For an institution, this is not as easy as it sounds and we would like to acknowledge the extremely hard work of Hilla Wait and her team as they deal with an influx of requests from across the university.

Working from home setup of College Assistant Librarian.
Working from home setup of College Assistant Librarian.

If there is no ebook, or an electronic copy would present a difficulty to the student, the easiest thing to do is to order a physical copy directly to the student and keep meticulous records of what is where. So far we have ordered over 130 books to go to students across the world. Where there are no electronic copies, or the student’s internet or devices are unreliable, this is by far the best option and means that we will have a copy in the library going forward. There are a surprising number of these books that we probably would have bought this term anyway.

On the odd occasion (and within copyright!), we have scanned articles and sections of books either from our own collections or that have been ordered to us (I take no credit for that; that was James). Essentially, we look at each situation individually and decide how best to help. The Conference of College Libraries maillist is extremely active at the moment, with college librarians in various situations with different staffing and service levels. It has been really useful to hear what others are doing and more than one of our own logistical problems has been solved by another college librarian. We are trying to maintain as normal a service as possible for a library with no accessible books, so do get in contact if you need anything!

For those of you who are still teaching and learning this Trinity Term, we are offering a reading list checking service. We have received a number of reading lists which are being used this term and are busy going through them, adding links to online resources and flagging where there could be problems accessing resources. We find it’s always useful to know if you need something tricky a few weeks before you actually need it rather than submitting to the all-consuming panic of having 12 hours to find a copy of an out-of-print, hard copy only book!

Outside of the immediate resource provision, we have a number of exciting projects to work on, including remote sessions for schools, preparing for our new graduate trainee in September, and running a remote book club. Most relevant to the college community is the book club. The COVID-19 pandemic means that most of our staff and students are working from home and are unable to take part in normal college activities or even say hello to each other on college ground so this is a good excuse to talk to some members of college and share opinions.

It was important to us that the members had a choice in which book was selected for reading so we have a poll each time we change book. In the current situation, we decided that the book should be out of copyright and freely available online in as many forms as we could reasonably find so that as many people as possible could join in. No book ordering or purchasing necessary! The other slightly subjective restrictions we had were ‘not too miserable’ (goodbye Brontës) and ‘not too long’ (so nothing Russian on both counts). We have so far read a few of the stories in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ and have moved on to Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ at a rate of 10 or so chapters per week. Anyone is welcome to join in! In addition to the librarians, we have had lecturers, professors, members of non-academic staff, students, as well as people who just wish to listen in rather than take part. Please do let us know if you’d like the link. We meet for about 25 minutes, usually on a Thursday. Join in at any point, in any week, and turn up when you can.

Have a lovely start to the weirdest Trinity Term most of us can remember and we’re here to help if you need anything. Just ask!

St Edmund Hall Library
Inside St Edmund Hall Library

Lockdown statistics

Books sent to students: 131

E-resources found or bought: 60

Some electronic sources

Bibliu have lots of textbooks including things like Chemistry primers – use your institutional login.

National Emergency Library – mainly older books but very useful – no login.

VitalSource – Lots of textbooks.

Drama Online – Scripts and recordings from a multitude of playwrights.

Visit the St Edmund Hall Library Page

Category: Library, Arts & Archives