The Sainsbury’s Library at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford has released a publication today titled Notable Works – a collation of statements from the Oxford Saïd research community on the works that have inspired them as critical thinkers. Edited by librarian Chris Flegg, who is retiring at the end of September, the publication is available in both print and digital formats. It follows on from Critical Thinkers, which Flegg published in 2012.
The featured works range from papers on economic growth and capitalism to fifteenth century renaissance art. In an introduction to Notable Works, Flegg states: ‘we are indebted to the generosity of the members of the Oxford Saïd community who have allowed us the privilege of seeing works through their eyes… varied, diverse, and sometimes quirky in their choice, but each of them rich in the telling, and valuable in the way they invite us, in turn, to be reflective about the world around us.’
Flegg has spent nine years as the Bodleian Business Librarian at the Sainsbury’s Library, a post she took up after twenty years as head librarian of Melbourne Business School. ‘I kept receiving emails from Oxford asking if I would be interested in the job,’ recalled Flegg. ‘For a while I thought there must be another Chris Flegg somewhere in the world, and I was getting their emails by mistake. Eventually I came over to the UK for the job interview, and the rest is history,’ she said.
The role of libraries has sometimes been called into question in the digital age, but as Chris Flegg approaches her retirement, she believes the future of the traditional university library is very much safe.
‘People often misunderstand the broader purpose of a library,’ she explained. ‘Library staff do not just provide an information service, they provide a managed space in which people want to work.’
‘That space also has a social element, because people often like to study together. Now you could simply provide them with a room – and some institutions have tried to do this. But sooner or later people using that room will want a problem looked into: perhaps others are being too noisy, or creating a mess, or in some other way diminishing the value of that space for them, and they will want to know to whom they can turn to arbitrate or oversee the use of that space. Next, the students will ask for access to their reading materials in print, because they don’t always want to read them on a screen. Before you know it, there are shelves with books on them, and some system for ensuring orderly access to the books, and so on, until in no time, the institution will have a library again.’
When Chris Flegg looks towards her retirement, she feels it is the social aspects of the library that she will miss the most. Writing in a farewell message to the School alumni, she said: ‘I will miss your energy, your unalloyed inquisitiveness, your intelligent, casual, beguiling, and sometimes bizarre conversations shared, as much as the delight evidenced at the information discovery, and yes, perhaps more than that, the good fortune I had in being, to any degree, the conduit for your experience of that information discovery.’