Jerwood Library Who’s Who: Oliver Witkin

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the Jerwood Library

My name is Oliver, I’m the librarian responsible for ordering all of the printed music for the library. I also work at the help desk assisting students and staff with their queries. I am from Exeter originally, a small city in the South West of England. I made my theatrical debut in a musical at the Northcott Theatre when I was young but there is no truth in the rumour that I had to leave Exeter for London as a result, nor that I did so to escape Exeter’s ‘brutalism’.

I studied music at Dartington College of Arts where I majored in composition and after graduating was set to embark on a further course in writing music for film and television. It was around this time that I changed my mind and my direction. I began to think seriously for the first time about a career in librarianship. I had always enjoyed using libraries and the library service was clearly entering a new era with all the challenges of the digital information age. I undertook my initial library training at the University of Surrey and obtained my MA in Librarianship from the University of Sheffield. I took up my present post at Trinity Laban in 2004 and this has enabled me to join together my love of music and of libraries. In January 2015 I became a chartered librarian.

What is a typical day like for you?

I order printed music both to meet the course requirements of the conservatoire and to improve the diversity of our holdings within the many instrumental and vocal areas of the collection. I also receive numerous requests from students and staff for particular pieces needed for their recitals, competitions and classes, so prioritisation is an important aspect to my acquisitions work.

I am based at the enquiries desk in the library and, on a typical day, I spend much of my time helping people with their queries and work related problems. The kinds of queries I receive are extremely diverse, I couldn’t possibly mention them all here, but typically they range from the very ordinary day-to-day library stuff (helping people find a book or piece of music on the shelves for example), through to much more detailed research-based queries. A few years ago a student arrived at the help desk with a bird in his hands and asked me “Where does this go?” This kind of query is rather less typical, perhaps, but it is as valid as any other, and as an Enquiries Librarian you learn to expect the unexpected…

Are there any hidden or little-known aspects of your work you’d like to share?

Some of the music requested can be obscure and print editions rare, so a bit of detective work is sometimes necessary. I am often in communication with publishers, suppliers, music associations, arrangers and composers in my efforts to track down a particular piece. Occasionally this turns out to be a wild goose chase and the music is simply out of print or never even existed in the first place, but it is always rewarding when you find that a piece of music you had practically given up hope on just happens to be lurking in the basement of some old warehouse in another part of the world.

I try to keep an eye on that pending orders box as well because some of those pieces are needed for recitals and the suppliers don’t always necessarily share our sense of urgency.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I am surrounded by interesting and engaging people. My day to day interactions with the students, staff, and my own library colleagues, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.

I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the collection grow. This satisfaction comes in all areas of my acquisitions role, not only music I am ordering with a view to collection development but also music which is requested by students and staff at the conservatoire, even the replacements for lost and damaged items. I like seeing a new piece of music appear on the shelves and knowing that the collection has improved in some respect however small.

Tell us something people may not know about you

There aren’t that many people who can say they have played chess with the former Ukrainian Women’s Chess Champion! I’ve suffered eighteen crushing defeats so far but I’m ever hopeful that a victory is on the horizon (or at least a draw perhaps…)

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