Friday, 31 August 2007

The Bodleian Library at Oxford

The Bodleian Library at Oxford is definitely one of the most picturesque libraries I’ve seen, it’s almost like the library is a mock up of what a library should be, dark wood, gilded spines, etc. etc. The library is made up of four buildings – the old and new Bodleian libraries, the Radcliffe Camera, and the Clareadon Building, although our guide mentioned at the end of the tour that the pub across the street is actually the unofficial fifth building.

Our tour ran through the Old Bodleian, which contained the Divinity School where students used to have public oral examinations and the Convocation Hall which looks exactly like a classroom from Harry Potter and happens to be where Parliament met during a few trying times for England like the Great Fire and the English Civil War. Upstairs was Duke Humfrey’s Library, Humfrey donated his collection of books to the Bodleian essentially forming the first major portion of the collection and they were kept chained to stands and basically unorganized. Today that part of the library has reader desks and the books are shelved spine-in and alarmed so that no one but the librarians can remove them. I am a big fan of the reference only, no touching aspects of the academic and reference libraries we have seen so far, it just seems like it would be so much easier to properly maintain out of print and rare and soon to be out of print and rare books that way. England and I agree about access issues.

The Radcliffe Camera, a round reading room and the second building on our tour connected to the New Bodleian by an underground tunnel which would be very useful during the rainy days, Oxford didn’t have a lot of covered walkways like Lancaster does, but perhaps there were more underground passages. In the New Bodleian we were shown their conveyor system to carry the books to their destinations on various floors of the library where they’ve been ordered to, including the mysterious J floor that apparently houses lots of important and secret and possibly fragile books and manuscripts. Later we saw the door to the J floor and I really wanted to see what was inside. Our guide also perused some newspapers with us in the stacks and I was quite happy to see something as familiar as compact shelving and dusty bound journals and to inform him that Buxton was in the Peak District while we were looking at the Buxton Herald.

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