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After MEMS? Applying to the Bodleian Libraries Trainee Scheme

A recent MEMS MA graduate, Anna-Nadine Pike currently works as a Graduate Library Trainee in New College, Oxford. Here she writes about her experience of the role, with further details on applying to Oxford's Library Graduate Trainee Scheme.

Just over half-way through my MA with MEMS at the University of Kent, I started thinking about the year, or even few years, beyond my degree. I thought about the work I wanted to wake up to each day; I hoped there would be manuscripts involved, and I hoped there would be research and writing. I definitely did not expect that, a year later, I would be living in Oxford, working with a medieval manuscript collection of almost four hundred items, and looking into funding options for Library School.

Before moving to Canterbury to study with MEMS, I completed an undergraduate degree in English at the University of Oxford. It feels like a very different time now, but the novelty of working in such beautiful, surreal, and silent library spaces, which continue to make research possible through their preservation and provision of innumerable literary materials, has not worn off.

During my MA, a chance conversation with Dr David Rundle introduced me to the trainee scheme run by Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. The aim of this scheme to offer trainees, of every age and background, the opportunity to begin a career in the Libraries & Archives sector through an immersive, ‘behind-the-scenes’ position in one of the Bodleian’s many central or subject libraries. Although there is no expectation attached, this year-long position equips its trainees to then apply for an MA or MSc in Information Studies, or an equivalent program accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). At the point of my conversation with Dr Rundle, the application deadline for the Bodleian scheme had passed, but several similar positions in Oxford College libraries were yet to advertise for their 2020/21 trainees. I was fortunate enough to be accepted at New College, and am currently working as their Graduate Library Trainee, with the potential to progress into the role of Curatorial Assistant of the college’s Special Collections.

My intention, and the TL;DR of this post, is really to grab the attention of anyone who is:

a) wondering what to do after their MEMS MA and

b) interested in librarianship, archival work or Collections management.

And to both, my answer would absolutely be to look into the Bodleain traineeship.

  • As a first step, details about the traineeship can be found HERE.

  • If you're keen to apply, the application form is available here HERE (deadline 22nd February)

If you're keen, and still reading, then I’ll also just run through a bit about my day-to-day role as a trainee, and how my College position relates to the broader Bodleian traineeship.

My position in New College Library is, really, a brilliant ‘bit of everything’. I help with a lot of book processing and accessions, as new items are added to our collections; I assist with reader services; I put displays together and help with the Library’s exhibitions; I contribute to the Library’s social media platforms. For me, though, the most exciting and surreal part of my role is working with the College’s pre-modern and antiquarian collections; New College holds 30,000 pre-1850 collections items, including around 340 incunabula and almost 400 medieval manuscripts. While the College’s printed materials are largely catalogued and searchable through SOLO, Oxford University’s library search engine, the medieval manuscripts are currently only listed in Henry Coxe’s 1852 (Latin) catalogue. Part of the Library’s work, then, is to increase the profile of its manuscript collections. In a pre-lockdown time, my role also involved invigilating readers’ use of our collections materials, and this is a wonderful opportunity to talk to researchers, learn more about the materials they are using, and increase my own familiarity with our collections!

Once a week, I join the other Library trainees for workshops run by the Bodleian Libraries. These are all remote for now, but I have heard that post-pandemically, the accompanying weekly pub trips will return with enthusiasm. So far, our training sessions have covered topics at the heart of librarianship, from preservation and collections care, to copyright laws, to presentation skills. We are also currently starting a training course in Digital Editions, with the valuable opportunity to digitise and encode a transcription of a collections item which we believe has a wider public significance. The social side to these training sessions has also given me an insight into how librarianship varies between building and departments in Oxford; some trainees have a far more active role in digitisation or cataloguing, while for others the emphasis is on supporting readers and student enquiries.

So far, this has been a valuable and developmental year, helping me to shape a sense of how I would like my own career to progress. I hope to find a balance between research and collections work; I would like to care for, and curate, the pieces of our cultural and literary histories, while also considering their place in our collective knowledge, and how they shape our relationship with our past.

Librarianship, as the Bodleian Libraries have introduced me to it, is a wide-reaching term which encompasses the storing and handling of information, outreach and public-facing engagement, the provision of reader services, and the management of buildings and collections, among many other vital roles. If reading this short introduction has engaged your interest in any of these elements, or sparked questions about the survival of the materials without which Medieval and Early-Modern Studies would be virtually impossible, then I would absolutely encourage you to look into a Bodleian traineeship. Keep an eye out for College-specific positions, too - these are likely to pop up in both Oxford and Cambridge towards the summer.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like to know any more details about the scheme! The deadline for traineeship applications is the 22nd February.

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