Librarian Nirvana: Or the Past Feeds the Future

By Lynn Clements

Spending a week in Oxford, England, as a participant in the summer Oxbridge Teachers’ Program, offered an opportunity for intellectual stimulation and professional development in a beautiful, historic setting. For a librarian, the opportunity to explore the riches of the Oxford libraries, under the leadership of the retired director of rare books at Oxford, was professional nirvana. Time was spent talking with Oxford University librarians about digitization of collections, and universal issues of concern to academic librarians, such as the balance between print and electronic resources, space utilization, and budget constraints. A look at rare children’s books was of particular interest to our group of school librarians, as well as many first editions by the likes of Chaucer, Austen, Carroll, Tolkien and Carroll. 

Each afternoon, I attended a plenary session led by academics from various Oxford colleges.  A talk about abolitionist poetry, featuring several Quaker poets: a reading by a former Poet Laureate; and a lecture about the diaries of Samuel Pepys and Virginia Woolf,  provided rich dinner conversation each evening. Attending Shakespeare in the Park, chamber music concerts in historic music halls, and visiting the many museums in Oxford, added a cultural dimension to the trip. One of the highlights of the week was my library cohort of nine librarians from across the US. We engaged in conversations about motivating students as readers, shared lesson ideas and brainstormed solutions to common concerns. Our group gave an audible sigh each time we entered a library: the venerable Bodleian, started in 1488;  the magnificent library at Christ Church College, the contemporary Weston Library, and the treasures at Trinity library.

As libraries are reinventing themselves to accommodate digital needs and conversations about the future of libraries and print collections abound, it was comforting to see the enduring power of libraries in Oxford. I will continue conversations with my Oxford colleagues via a group chat, and have plans for meeting one of the librarians, also in an independent lower school, in NYC, this fall, to exchange ideas. I returned to our newly carpeted and freshly painted Lower School library, with renewed enthusiasm and energy, having had the opportunity to be a student during the summer.

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