Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Bodleian Library

The first recorded lecture at Oxford took place in the nearby church in 1096. Oxford would build up over the years for several reasons. The main thing is that the town was surrounded by churches and the King had a castle a few miles up the road. In 1167, students studying in Paris were forced out by the English King and than went to Oxford. The university was "officially" established in 1180 by the Guild of Universities. Today, Oxford has 39 separate colleges around the University, and Oxford is the oldest english speaking university in Europe.

Of course, in every great university has to be a great library! Broken into separate libraries is the Humphrey's Library and the Bodleian Library, old and new. In 1488, Humphrey donated to the school 281 manuscripts, and they were housed in the Divinity Room. But in the 1500s, the library was closed and everything sold. Of the original 281 manuscripts, Oxford only has 3 left. After marrying a rich widow, Bodleian decided to restore the library. The library was restored between 1598 to 1602. Bodleian decorated the ceilings and added bookcases. This part of the library can be seen in the sixth Harry Potter movie when Hermonie and Harry are talking in the library. So cool!!

Along with the Humphrey's library, there is the new Bodleian Library which houses 8 million books and under the Square is another 2 million books. Around the university is 34 lending libraries, but Oxford is a reference library, so nothing can be checked out. Since there are so many libraries and reading rooms, it can take 3 hours for a book to be delivered once its been ordered through the internet. That's a long time, but our guide, Mitchell, said that it used to take all day several years ago.

In the collection, the oldest document the Bodleian Library has is an Egyptian marriage license from 567 BC. Oxford also has the most Magna Cartas anywhere else. The one in the British Library is so horribly damaged that you can't even read it. The Bodleian was also the first book depository in the UK. Today, they receive 5,500 new books a week. Like some of the other libraries we've visited, the Bodleian doesn't use the Dewey Decimal System, but catalogues the books by size and arrival date. At the moment, there are over 50,000 registered readers.

The best part of our tour was taking the tunnel from the old Bodleian to the new Bodleian Library. We saw the system that carrys the books from one building to the other. We ended up three stories beneath the library in the stacks. Mitchell told us that the third floor was used as a bomb shelter during the air raids. The second floor basement displayed all the photographs taken of the Normandy Beaches and how the troops would land for D-Day. The first floor basement had people trying to decipher German codes. To me, that is awesome! To think the planning of the Invasion of Normandy took place in the floor above us was amazing! So many places became safe havens and outpost for the war, that nobody would know unless told. That was just so cool!

In the next couple of years, the new Bodleian Library will be renovatied because it has to be brought up to fire coded, needs to make the storage space more efficent, and more user friendly for the patrons. The old and new Bodleian Library were awesome libraries and the new Bodleian will be even better once its renovatied. Oh, and our guide Mitchell was informative, funny, and cute. He just made the tour even better!

To learn more about the Bodleian Library, please visit

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