The Bodleian Library: Oxford’s Pride

6 Jan

The interior of Duke Humfrey’s library, part of the Bodleian group at Oxford

The interior of Duke Humfrey’s library, part of the Bodleian group at Oxford

Oxford’s libraries are among the most celebrated in the world for their incomparable collections of books and manuscripts. The main research library which lends the entire group its name is the Bodleian Library. The group includes research libraries, faculty libraries, as well as those attached to the departments and other institutions of the University, and of course, the main University library.

The Bodleian at the University of Oxford is the largest university library system in the United Kingdom. The principal University library – the Bodleian, which has been a legal deposit library for 400 years, and 30 libraries across Oxford, together hold more than 12 million printed items, over 80,000 e-journals, and outstanding special collections of rare books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, and art.

To many Oxford scholars, the library is known simply as ‘Bodley’ or ‘the Bod.’ These resources are used by students and scholars from all over the world, and attract an ever-increasing number of visitors. Access is not limited to anyone, and tours are organised regularly to visit the library. There are five reading rooms in the Old Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera, and the underground Gladstone Link, another reading space, connects the two buildings.

The Bodleian Library is host to wide-ranging activities. Whether you visit an exhibition or a display, attend an event or a lecture, go on a guided tour, or visit the shop, you will find an opportunity to discover the distinguished collections, magnificent buildings, and informative programs.

The Bodleian Library’s Special Collections (at the Weston Library) holds the second largest collection of manuscripts and archives in Britain, next only to the British Library in London. The items range in date from papyri of the 3rd century B.C., to correspondence and papers of the present. It has a particularly impressive selection of medieval manuscripts, 17th-century literary and historical documents, antiquarian and topographical manuscripts, collections from the Commonwealth and African countries, as well as digital material, including the university archives for the University of Oxford.

South of the Old Bodleian is the Radcliffe Camera. The building is a distinguishing landmark of the campus, and familiar to many who have never even visited the university. The Radcliffe Camera is designed in classical style, and was built in 1737–1749, to house the Radcliffe Science Library. Today the Camera functions as the main reading room of the Bodleian.

The first book to be placed in the library was identified by one contemporary account as Thomas Carte’s “A General History of England”. Today, the building holds approximately 600,000 books in underground rooms beneath Radcliffe Square.

There are two reading rooms, used primarily by undergraduates. The Upper Reading Room contains books on History, Art, Archaeology, and Anthropology, while the Lower Reading Room is focused on English Literature and Theology.

An underground bookstore lies beneath the lawn to the north of the Camera and is linked with the Old Library through tunnels.

An extended guided tour is the only way to visit the Radcliffe. The tour takes in Divinity School, Convocation House, Duke Humfrey’s Library, and the Upper Reading Room, as well as the Camera.

What do you think of libraries? Email us or leave a comment below.

By Yana Yadav



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