Stephen Douglas




United States


Public Administration


Jan 2016 - Sep 2017

By Stephen Douglas

Autumnal X-ray Accounting and Libraries’ Sofas

Learning accounting at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School was surprisingly interesting. I remember reading, as an undergraduate, about how double entry bookkeeping’s invention was a condition for the industrial revolution. I’m glad now to understand more of what double entry bookkeeping actually is. I’ve managed the finances of an organisation. But then I just copied what had been done in the past. I didn’t understand what lay beyond the sometimes weird conventions I followed to make sure the accounts matched. Here, we were taught several useful ways to elicit information quickly from balance sheets. The footnotes are key. By looking closely at the footnotes together with different line items, you can interpret so much. It’s almost like an X-ray.

There’s never enough time during an Oxford University Executive MBA module to spend too long in a library – it’s more or less back-to-back classes all week long. I now delight in spending the day or two before or after a module’s completion in Oxford. As a part-time Oxford University student, it’s important to create opportunities to experience the same feelings as full-time students do here. I love to spend these days in different libraries around the University.

Yesterday, for example, I woke up with my assignment on Strategy in mind. I went directly to the Saïd Business School library – an airy, comfortable space conducive to different kinds of work: reading, group studying and research. I like particularly the desks by the windows, overlooking the gardens.

After sketching the outline of my Strategy project, I thought: I really should go discover somewhere new (I’d been inspired yesterday morning to go exploring by reading BuzzFeed’s recent list of 42 magical things about studying at Oxford). What I really needed was a sofa or even a Chaise Longue. Sometimes, I find it easier to work and juggle multiple sources of information (laptop, eReader, papers, text book, and notepad) while reclining. It’s possible that I was a Roman or Greek accountant in a previous life. There simply had to be a library with sofas in Oxford. My old Cambridge college’s library, Trinity Hall, was practically littered with window seat sofas.

Pretty quickly, I struck gold.

Please don’t tell anyone. The Samsung room in the newly revitalised Weston Library has a plethora of the most fantastic sofas. At 4pm the Weston Library closed (it was Saturday). I’d accomplished a lot. There’s always more to achieve. Maybe the library closing’s a sign I’d done enough work for the day??? Just then I remembered: my college library never closes.

So through slightly rainy autumnal streets I made my way back to Linacre. Fantastically, Linacre’s library too had a sofa I hadn’t noticed before. This sofa even had a fluffy animal shaped pillow some like-minded sofa-loving student probably had donated many centuries ago. I reclined. I rested my head on the springy portly penguin and I imbibed some new knowledge about different corporate parenting strategies in diversified corporations…

From the outside came the sound of vehicles gently splashing through puddles. Whenever I looked up, I could see, through the mullion windows, rustling trees; their leaves falling; and the out-of-term time empty green rugby pitches beyond.

In a day or two I’ll be back on duty as a diplomat working in a conflict zone. I’ll remember these library moments most then.

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