Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford - July 16

On July 16th we headed out of London to visit Oxford's Bodleian Library as a class. Oxford and the "Bod" have an interesting history in that the University didn't have it's own building or library until the 14th century, despite the fact that teaching at Oxford can be traced back to the 11th century. Until the approximately 1320, students relied on their individual college libraries. From these humble roots, the library grew when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the brother of King Henry V, donated a collection of 281 volumes and helped with a fundraising effort to expand the Library's space. It was finally opened in 1488, however, the collection was disassembled during the Reformation. Sir Thomas Bodley (from whom the Library receives its name) came forward to help rebuild the collection in 1598. The Library was reopened in 1602 and in 1610 Bodley arranged to have the Library become a Legal Deposit Library. Due to space restrictions the Library only receives requested materials, however, that is still 5,000 new items each week. The collection is approximately 11 million items, some of which is housed off-site.

Our tour with CeCe began in the Divinity School, which is part of the 1488 building. Above is a picture of the Convocation House and Court, a room that was used for governing meetings of the University and by Parliament during the Civil War.

We proceeded upstairs to Duke Humphrey's Library where there are still books chained to the stacks as they were in 1488. CeCe also brought us into the underground stacks that connects the old Bodleian Library to the new building across the street. The majority of the collection is housed in closed stacks with the exception of quick reference materials and items frequently used by undergraduates.

Bodley's touch still remains throughout the Library. For instance, the Head Librarian still carries the title "Bodley's Librarian." The person who currently fills this role is the first woman in the Library's history. She is also the first American.

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