Saturday, 2 August 2008

Bodleian Library, Oxford: July 17th 2008

(photo taken from:

Today we had the opportunity to take of tour of the Bodleian Library at the University at Oxford. Our greeting by Sidney Hicks was quite offical and it was apparent that, in comparison to some smaller library collections we have visited, the Bodleian runs a tight ship with the tours (Oh no, Maritime Museum has made its mark on my current vocabulary. I need to stop with the references to life at sea). Mr. Hicks provided us with a detailed history of the Bodleian Library as well as an outline of how the library has transformed from its conception.

We started our tour in the Divinity School. This is were a professor of Divinity would supervised oral examinations of candidates and Mr. Hicks noted that some orals examinations involved hours upon hours of arguments to promote critical thinking and one's ability to support any assertions made. This is the area that contains wall and ceiling fixtures that are packed with religious symbolism as well as monograms and shields that commemorate benefactors of the library and individuals who have advocated for the library's restoration and sustainability. The first floor of the building also includes the Convocation House which still holds meetings today and is a wonderful example of what a 17th century "Parliament House" would look like.

Finally, we went upstairs to the Duke Humfrey's Library. This library originally consisted of only manuscripts of scholastic and legal texts. It's history include many books and manuscripts being destroyed by the King's Commission during the reformation. However, it was revived though by Sir Thomas Bodley, a student himself at Oxford. Mr. Hicks stressed that Bodley's vision was to make the library more global and this is reflected in the multi-language and multidisciplinary texts available in the collection.

On an average the library serves about 54,000 readers a day. One interesting project noted by our guide was a digitization project in partnership with the Folger Institute. This projects is one of the first of its type between British and American institutions and seeks to make 75 of Shakespeare's quarto plays in one collection with an interactive interface.

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