Unheard Oxford: Laura Cracknell, Pembroke Librarian

Another view on the dreaming spires. This week, Sophie Dowle talks to Laura Cracknell, the Pembroke librarian

Photo credit: Rob Judges

I wish there was a typical day for a college librarian here at Oxford. Obviously all the books have to go back on the shelves, the library has to be tidied up and all the new books that come in have to be catalogued, stamped and tagged. We also do a lot of project work, which a lot of people don’t realise. Then there’s all the email queries from students. Tutors often put classic works on their lists, so if they were published in, for example, 1975, you can’t just turn up to Blackwell’s and buy them. Then you have to make sure that you’re getting the best value for money for what you buy. There are lots of micro-decisions that you have to make.

We also get many external visitors because we’ve got the only copy of a book in Oxford, or because they want to look at our rare books collection. My favourite is the Nuremburg chronicle, it’s an early printed book published in the 1490s. It was one of the earliest books to combine print and woodblock pictures. It’s this amazing book with a fold out map of the world at the back. It’s also got pictures of cities. However, because they had a limited number of woodblocks for the cities, all of them look more or less the same, and they all look like small towns in medieval Germany.

My favourite thing about being a librarian here is the students, definitely, and I’m not just saying that. Being able to answer questions is by far the most satisfying aspect of the job.

The strangest book request I’ve ever received is for a book called The O Mission Repo, and it’s a book of poems that have been created by blacking out words from the report on the mission to find Osama Bin Laden. We had to contact the publisher directly for it, who was really helpful and let us have a PDF copy early, because it wouldn’t have shipped here from New York in time for the student who needed it. The actual book arrived about three weeks later, but when it arrived I didn’t realise what it was. I opened it and flicked through and I thought “ugh! They’ve sent us a duff copy!” It took me about five minutes to realise that it was supposed to look like that! I also once had a historian working on medieval mystics, who asked me how to cite God. We settled on citing the person who had quoted God.