Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

Time to introduce Rosie, the third of this year’s Graduate Trainees here at the Library. In her first post for us, she finds a particularly intriguing shelfmark in the History stacks…

The posts by Carley, Alice and Xavier have already provided London Library blog readers with a great introduction into the world of a Graduate Trainee at The London Library. So much so that I was struggling to find inspiration for my first post!

As the job title suggests, the three of us current trainees are recent graduates from different universities across the country, and the subjects we studied provided us with an excellent foundation to complement the large arts and humanities collection housed here in the library. Alice studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Manchester University, Xavier studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and I thoroughly enjoyed my three years at Teesside University studying for a History degree. My love of history has resulted in me developing a particular soft spot for the Library’s History section, spread across Levels 2, 3 and 4 in the famous ‘Back Stacks’. This section boasts a wide variety of shelfmarks such as: H. England, Kings and Queen; H. Goths (not the kind wearing PVC and black lipstick); right through to exotic locations such as H. Schleswig-Holstein and H. Zululand.

Whilst exploring the History section, I came across the shelfmark: H. Imaginary Hist. and was suddenly hit with inspiration. I realise that many historians would balk the concept of counterfactual history, and I must admit I would probably be of the same mindset. Is it productive to spend time musing over what would have happened if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded? Or if the Brighton bomb had killed Margaret Thatcher in 1984? (See What might have been: leading historians on twelve ‘what ifs’ of history, edited with an introduction by Andrew Roberts; who is himself a Library member, appropriately enough.) Personally, I would disagree with this school of thought, but as human beings we can’t help but rely on hindsight and wonder if certain decisions or chains of events would have resulted in things turning out differently.

The notion of ‘what might have been’ also made me wonder what would happen if there was no London Library. What if Thomas Carlyle had never decided to create an alternative to the British Library with an extraordinary emphasis on making the collection available on open shelves? Or, worse still, what if the London Library had been reduced to rubble when it was hit by the Blitz during the Second World War?  What if there hadn’t been a team of staff dedicated to the preservation of the London Library’s collection over the last 170 years? As a relative newcomer to the library profession, and as someone who wishes to pursue a long and hopefully fruitful career in this field, my traineeship here has made me consider the importance of places like The London Library, and libraries in general, to assist in the preservation of the printed word. We hear horror stories about the closure of public libraries and the ‘Google Generation’ relying on the internet to find the answers they need. However, the optimist in me firmly believes that the digital age will only serve to enhance the provision of our libraries, and that books and periodicals can survive in harmony alongside a growing number of e-resources and new technologies. I’m positive that The London Library has at least another 170 years left in it, if not longer!

The Imaginary History shelfmark, tucked away in our lovely Back Stacks

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Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

We continue our series of blog entries by this year’s intake of new Graduate Trainees with news from Xavier. Here he tells of the delight in re-discovering ‘AWOL books’ and getting to grips with the Library’s one million titles!

During a recent training session in the Acquisitions department, the two other trainees and I were shown a book which had been out on loan for over a hundred years, recently returned by an unknown bearer. Perhaps this book had been stuffed away in an attic somewhere, found hidden behind a beam or in a dusty forgotten box. Could it have been, however, that its time spent ‘AWOL’ was much more exciting? One can only speculate, but maybe the book accompanied several non-paying borrowers during its absence, until it finally reached one honest enough to return it? Anyhow, encounters like these make me feel extremely new to the London Library, so I should probably introduce myself. My name is Xavier and I am one of three Graduate Trainees here at the London Library. If you didn’t know, the London Library employs up to three of us each year. The traineeship is designed to ready us for the Masters degree in ‘Information and Library Management’, whilst giving us an insight and a part to play in the daily running of a library.

The competition for these placements is fierce (who wouldn’t want to work here!?) and so I feel privileged to have been offered a position following interview. The training that the London Library provides us has, thus far, exceeded my expectations and goes beyond the experience I gained from working part-time in my university library. In return for our training (and salary!), we play a crucial role in the daily running of the library by being put to work in various departments, my favourite of which has been the enquiries desk.

I enjoy the preliminary research we carry out for members and have been impressed by the vast array of resources The London Library owns to draw upon for them. What with over a million titles as well as all the digital information we have access to, I have, on occasion, found it difficult to know where to begin. Those who have worked here for a number of years have acquired this kind of instinctual ability to seek out information and always seem to know where to look, even when faced with the most obscure kinds of requests. Some enquiries (particularly those related to foreign languages) are extremely difficult, yet the Enquiries Staff almost always manage to conjure up exactly what it is the member was looking for, as well as suggesting other resources that might be useful.

Despite having been here for nearly two months, I am often faced with questions concerning resources I know little or nothing about. Perhaps by the time I’ve written my second blog post nine weeks from now, I’ll feel much more confident answering questions about the library’s collections. Until then, I’ll continue pestering everyone with questions…

Do look out for Xavier’s next entry and for news from our other Graduate Trainees, as well as other Library departments, in the next few weeks…

The London Library - Issue Hall

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Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

Having heard from Carley, one of last year’s Graduate Trainees, about her experience and where it has led her, we are proud to introduce this year’s intake of new Graduate Trainees. We’ll be following them on the blog and charting their progress from bewildered London Library novices to all-knowing LL experts over the coming months.


First up, we have Alice, who is slowly finding her way through the labyrinth of stacks and marvelling at the Library’s many wonders.


Pinch me, I must be dreaming…


A library as perfectly peculiar as this is clearly a figment of the imagination, perhaps a result of one too many afternoon teas in front of the fire. It certainly epitomises the romantic ideal: thousands of volumes stacked to the horizons; the scent of aging paper, leather and, in some parts, bacon; whimsical shelf-marks (my favourite thus far is R. Serpent Worship); Brobdingnagian bindings and miniatures fit for a mouse… it simply cannot be real.

The London Library flouts the laws of time and space, drawing in the willing reader (or graduate trainee!) and depositing her, disorientated, dizzy, deep in the midst of H. Girondists. (This year will be filled with learning, and not just library lore. Note to self: research what a “Girondist” actually is.) Truly, the only way to begin to comprehend these idiosyncrasies is to get thoroughly lost in the labyrinth, a task in which all three of us have now achieved distinction. Round each new corner I keep half-expecting to encounter the skeletal, cobwebbed remains of previous trainees or perhaps Marley’s ghost. Alas, no Yorick, merely an owl, roosting in Literature. Still, far more pleasant than the spectres that the mind conjures up- perhaps it isn’t a dream after all.


Reality results in knowledge of the workings of the library; believe it or not, “Banging and Stamping” does occur here, though it isn’t as boisterous as the title suggests. (One blissful contrast between here and the public library from which I came.) In actuality, it comprises of ensuring each new book is fitted with a copy of The Rules and a date label, an essential task, but not the most enthralling.  However, it is trickier than it sounds: aligning the papers, attempting to position them true, the delicate balance of water on the back of the gummed sheets- should you find any crinkled, please forgive me.  There are an awful lot of skills to perfect and we shall keep you updated throughout our pilgrims’ progress.


If you’re intrigued by the shelf-marks Alice has referred to – R. Serpent Worship and H. Girondists – you can see a full list of the Library’s unique shelf-marks on our website


Coming soon: contributions from Alice’s fellow Graduate Trainees Rosie and Xavier.

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Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

The London Library is famed for its highly skilled, extremely experienced staff who know our collections inside out. But what about the next generation of librarians, just beginning in their chosen profession? Every year we recruit up to three lucky candidates for Graduate Traineeships here at the Library, providing them with a wide-ranging introduction to library work over the course of twelve months.

With our 2011-12 Graduate Trainees currently settling in to their new posts, one of our 2010-11 Trainees, Carley, describes how the scheme works and looks back on her year of hands-on learning.

For many, the age-old stereotype of the librarian – whose job is simply to look austere, shush people and stare them down with their inscrutable gaze when members raise their voice to anything more than a whisper – still dominates public perception. But did you know that it’s not at all easy to become a librarian? Yes, that’s right. Librarians of today need to gain a Masters degree in order to enter the profession. They not only take courses in traditional aspects of librarianship such as cataloguing and classification, collection management and preservation, but they must also learn how to cope with the continually evolving information environment. They must learn how to use computers, e-journals, use html, create their own websites, and thus comprehend a library which not only houses printed material, but electronic resources as well.

In order to gain a Masters qualification in Library and Information Studies, CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) recommends that you first undertake a year-long Graduate Traineeship, during which you have the opportunity to learn through hands-on experience by exploring the various aspects of librarianship on offer. Whilst many institutions across the country offer trainee positions, very few offer such a varied and interesting experience as The London Library. Primarily based in Reader Services, the main responsibilities of a Graduate Trainee involve the effective day-to-day issue, return, renewal and reservation of books, as well as dealing with enquiries either face-to-face, by phone, email or fax.

You have probably seen us at the front desks, helping you to find books, or at the very least pointing you in the right direction, but this is not all Graduate Trainees do. The purpose of a Traineeship is to offer an insight into the multi-faceted library and information management profession, which is why The London Library also provides introductory training sessions in each of its departments – Membership, Acquisitions, Cataloguing, Conservation & Preservation, IT and Development – so that you are aware of not only how a library works and functions as a whole, but are also able to better understand the importance of each department and the role it plays within the institution. On a personal level, I found it particularly interesting to know and understand a little bit better things like The London Library’s criteria for book acquisition, preservation guidelines, and how to look after and carry out your own book repairs. The latter was perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of my traineeship, as Rachel, the Library’s Head Conservator, allowed me assist with the repairing of books and creating protective boxes if they were too old or fragile to be repaired in-house.

Training such as this has already set me in good stead for my postgraduate degree course (now that my London Library Graduate Traineeship is over, I have commenced at University College London), giving me extra insight into a profession which is anything but old-fashioned and requires a lot more than just shushing.  One of the nicest things about The London Library, however, is that you never really leave, and I am hugely grateful to have been given the opportunity of continuing work here in a different capacity, as a Casual Library Assistant on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Although one of the perks is further indulging my love of the Library and its fantastic collections (the Victorianist in me is constantly being let loose on the shelves!), the fact I am also able to apply the theory I’m learning at UCL to actual library practice is nothing short of invaluable.

Carley, Graduate Trainee 2010-11

Our new group of Graduate Trainees will be telling us more about their London Library adventures with a regular slot on the LL Blog throughout the coming year. Stay tuned for their first instalment, appearing here soon!

Carley, Graduate Trainee 2010-11

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