Oriel Interviews: ‘Oriel is my size’

by Giorgio Scherrer

Marjory Szurko, Oriel’s librarian, likes books, people and Medieval English recipes

I’ve been at Oriel for fourteen years now, longer than most staff members. But sometimes, I still discover things about the library that I didn’t know before. That’s always wonderful. And in a library like this there are so many things to find.

I decided to become a librarian when I was ten. I liked books and people, but I didn’t want to be a teacher like my father. So I studied English at university and went to library school after that. Being a librarian is about so much more than conservation; I feel like a sort of detective, getting information from wherever I can.

Technology has changed everything. Librarianship is completely different now than it was even five years ago. In Manchester, where I had my first job, the libraries were at the forefront with computers, so I had a head-start. At one point my job description read “computer liaison officer”. Thanks to technology we’re in a much better position for finding things now, but I think people also feel that they have to keep up with social media or they won’t know what’s going on anymore. I’m frustrated when I’m too busy to do things the way I’d like to. And it feels a bit like the students, too, have a lot more exams, a lot more of everything.

Oriel is my third college library. First I was at Keble and then at Wolfson – and I liked both. But at Wolfson I realised that what I really loved was to work with older material. And Keble was so huge! I felt like an ant – Oriel is my size.

Here, the students are great, the staff and fellows are fine, I like the alumni, and I enjoy my work! Most people smile at me when I see them. And the more people I see, the better. I only wish I had more time to get to know the students. My favourite place here is the senior library, but I like the whole college, every part of it.

If I could add one thing, it would be a place where people could gather informally, a space to relax for everyone in college. But that’s easier said than done.

I was born in Scotland, my father is Irish and we lived in Canada for some time. I studied in Manchester and before coming to Oxford I worked in the library of an oil company in London. So I’m at home in many places, though there’s not a drop of English blood in me. In Oxford, I really like the very varied life – the galleries, the theatre, the cinema. And I know a lot of people, especially among the librarians – we are well connected.

When I first came to Oriel, I found a little recipe book amongst a bequest of books from an alumnus called Stephen Furness, containing Edwardian recipes collected from his mother, grandmother and their friend. I decided to organise an exhibition showing books from the Furness bequest but also asked staff and fellows to help me bake and serve sweet dishes from the recipes.

This was a success, and so we decided to go further back to recipes written in the fourteenth century, when the college was founded, and translated some Middle English recipes from that period. It was quite difficult, as there weren’t many cooking instructions given in those days, and some of the dishes were quite strange. Every two years since then I have organised an ‘Edible Exhibition’ based on recipes from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries, and at the Celebrating Women at Oriel event last November I gave two interactive seminars on ‘equality through recipe writing’, serving sweet dishes from recipes written across the centuries to illustrate my talks. Both were fully booked.

The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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