Friday, July 13, 2012

Bodleian Library of Oxford

Bodleian Library Oath, in Latin, on tote bag
available in gift shop
Photo from the Bodleian Library Shop

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not 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.
--Bodleian Library Oath
Above is the oath that every reader of the Bodleian Library must take before that are allowed access to the precious materials available at the 400 year old library. This is for good reason, as the shelf materials alone can date back to the 17th century.

The collection contains over 11 million bibliographic works. Of the 17 existing copies of the Magna Carta, four are held by the Bodleian Library. The special collections contain over 250,000 books which are older that 1500. The collections grows are 3,000 books per week. Books are digitized as they can be. Our tour guide said that they were about halfway through the collection, working with Google and a 6,000,000 pound budget, employing 500 people. Many of the works cannot be parsed by a computer, however, and remain unsearchable. Most of the libraries books are kept 25 miles off site, waiting for the renovation of a new facility across the street from the Bodleian that will hols 3,000,000 volumes. The renovation is expected to be completed in 2015.

Statue of Bodleian outside of library.
The Bodleian is not a lending library. Students and academics alike must study the works in one of the available reading rooms. We were shown one of the older rooms that still had books chained to the desks, and numbers written on the edges of the book. It is difficult to process how much history happened in these halls. As an example, during the protestant reformation, at least seven works of religious importance were smuggled from the library in 1550, to save them from destruction on the orders of King Edward VI. Read more about the history of the library here.

The Lower Reading room is for medieval script and includes ready reference and source books that are unique. Some Sanscript writings are available there as well. These works must be kept under high security and in a controlled environment. Our tour guide showed us a copy of the original printed catalog printed in Latin. At the end of the room is the location where the Harry Potter library scenes were filmed. The inscription on the ceiling says "The Lord is My Light". 
Inscription above door to library.

Without a doubt the Bodleian library is awe inspiring in its appearance, its depth, its history, and its pride. The students and researchers who study here cannot help but realize they have access to one of the most interesting collections in the world.

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