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Adventures in Oxford’s Libraries

I love an adventure. Summer is a great time for new adventures and this summer I was able to be part of one the most exciting adventures of my career. OxBridge Teacher Seminars are part of OxBridge Academic Programs, which provide summer study programs to students in grades 8-12 in places such as Oxford, Cambridge, Spain, France, and the United States.

The OxBridge Teacher Seminar is geared for teachers in K-12 academic institutions around the world with the desire to dive into a new learning experience by studying on an educational focus topic for a one-week period. I was selected for a Fellowship to attend Oxford University this past July and spend one week learning about the role of the library in academic institutions. There were 30 teachers from all over the world at Oxford’s Mansfield University and aside from learning from guest speakers who are experts in their field, I was also able to network with teachers and gain a more global connection with other educators in a variety of disciplines. This opportunity was one I could not pass on, and I packed up for a week of learning more about history, libraries, and the evolving role of librarians in the world at Oxford University in England.

There are 99 libraries on Oxford’s campus and I had the privilege of visiting many of them in just one week. Our study group consisted of 5 other school librarians from all over the United States. Our group leader was Clive Hurst, former Head of Rare Materials at The Bodleian Library, which is one of the oldest and most famous libraries in the world. Clive was amazing and was able to show us some of the most rare book materials in the world. We were able to tour the Duke Humfrey’s Library, which was one of the first libraries in recorded history founded by Thomas Bodley. Our entire group was in awe of the history, stories, and management of the libraries at Oxford beginning over 700 years ago. We were even able to touch some of the rare materials, like a first edition Oliver Twist novel. You know you are a librarian when you squeal with delight at these materials! Some other memorable experiences included the following:

  • An illustrated talk on early children’s books
  • A guided tour of St. John’s College library
  • A tour of Trinity College and its libraries by their librarian
  • A practical printing course-I learned how to typeset and arrange on a printing press and print out a poem
  • A behind-the-scenes overview of some of the most rare materials in The Bodleian Library (including an Aesop’s Fable
  • book signed by Queen Victoria and given to her daughter, Princess Beatrice).
  • Attended a presentation on digital media and development by the Bodleian Curator of Digital Special Collections

Another exciting opportunity our study group had was to be part of a presentation at the Oxford University Press with the Oxford English Dictionary department which focused on the use they make of libraries in compiling the dictionary. This was one of the highlights of the week for me, as we were asked for input on making the OED more accessible for students and what we thought as school librarians of some of their new features. This was an awesome experience to hear about the research that goes into every entry in the OED and see some examples of challenges they have encountered in keeping up with technology.

There were some other more social activities included in our itinerary of the week including a punting experience (Google punting in England if you think this is referring to football), an evening Shakespeare play in a college garden and a visit to the pub where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien met and wrote their classics as part of The Inklings. Also, we had evening dinners in the Mansfield College Chapel that resembled the Harry Potter dining room. It was truly a week of memories I will cherish always and feel so blessed to be a part of. 

I have a much bigger picture view of the role of libraries from a historical and archival perspective. Libraries have always had the challenge of balancing its roles and still preserving the history that exists in every space they occupy. Librarians are the most important part of libraries-always have been, and always will be. They are the ones that maintain collections, share information, and promote the role of the library. We have a history of linking people and ideas and leading outward. This experience was one of the best learning experiences for me as a professional and also as a lover of all things libraries. The entire week never felt like work. It truly was a magical time and one I will never forget.