Sunday, 12 August 2012

Nor Kindle Any Fire Therein ~ The Bodleian Library at Oxford University

Oxford: Photo by Jenny Collins

What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than by waking up in London and hoping on a train to Oxford University? That's what we librarians did as we headed off to the Bodleian library at Oxford University.

Oxford University: Photo by Jenny Collins
For many academic librarians the Bodleian stands as a sort of utopia. Excellent funding for services like preservation and digitization alike, a gorgeous building designed by our old friend Christopher Wren, enthusiastic students and more books than one could shake a stick at. Seriously, if you piled all of the books in the Bodleian together and got yourself a massive stick, you'd still end up walking around a good mile and a half to be able to shake it at all the books.

The library is currently in the middle of a massive reorganization as construction is conducted on their newest building facility, located across the street from the historic building that has housed the Bodleian since 1320. They're hoping to have the new building opened by 2015.

More space is a very important issue for the Oxford Library. They receive a copy of every book published in the UK and have done since 1600, which leads to massive yearly swelling to their already full collection. Just to break down the numbers, they get about 3,000 individual books, magazines and newspapers every-week. There are 11 million works in their collection (compare that to the Library of Congress' 30 million) and that's not counting their Pre-1530's special collection totaling approximately 250,000 works. With so many works you might be wondering where exactly they're storing it all if the new building won't be done for another three years, the answer is off site. About 98% of the modern collection is housed off site, 25 minutes away in Swindon. Trucks run back and fourth to the site multiple times a day to fetch books for student and faculty once they are requested.

The library has an astounding budget of 6 million quid and 500 employees working in the Bodliean's multiple sections. There is the Old Bodleian, which includes the Duke Humfrey Library (or the Hogwarts library for Harry Potter movie fans), the New Bodleian (complete with modern shelves and computer kiosks), and the off site storage.

The collection on site remains very impressive, and its clear that the 2% of books on site at the Bodleian represent the best of what the collection has to offer. Modern reference books are housed in the same space as copies of the first dictionary attempt, written by Samuel Johnson; along with volumes on astronomy by the great Galileo and Copernicus.

Just in case you were thinking you might like to pop over to Oxford, check out the dictionary and start reading, not so fast. The Bodleian is a non-lending library. Those who want to use the books have to be students, faculty or approved researchers and all reading of Bodleian materials must be done within the building. Students even have to take an oath prior to using any of the library materials which is as follows:

"I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; nor to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library."

We didn't have to take the oath as part of our tour, but we endeavored non the less not to damage anything or kindle any flames. 

Bodleian Library: Photo Courtesy of The Telegraph 


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