Bodleian Library at Oxford University


On Thursday, July 23, we took the national train to the city of Oxford in order to visit Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Our tour guide, Rita was from Rome and she gave us a thorough talk on the history of the Bodleian Library. Since Oxford university was established in a time where there were strong unions between the state, the church and the university, the imagery in the building reflects the connection. Construction on the Bodleian library began in 1427 in the Gothic style, but as the funding began to wane in 1440, the style became more plain. William Orchard was the architect of the library (his initials are in the ceiling) and the project was complete in 1488.

Our tour took us through several levels of the library and down through the closed stacks and the underground passage way that library workers used to transport books from one section to another. We saw the old fashioned, and no longer working conveyor belt that the staff used to use to move books as well. Rita confessed that she had actually gotten a tour group locked in an underground passage so she was being extra careful with us. I never really got my bearings in the Bodleian Library because it is so big and the structure is a lot like a maze.

Thomas Bodley was a fairly resourceful fellow. According to Rita, he would host big, fancy parties and entertain the wealthy people in the area. Apparently, he was schmoozing them in order to get them to agree to donate their collections to the library, after they passed. This seems like a smart way to guarantee the growth of your library's collection. He also mandated that the books be chained to the shelves and put away with the spine facing the wall, and make the patrons pay to use the card catalog. This would ensure that no one was getting their knowledge for free. I believe that the library administration has moved away from these tactics in the past 500 years, but it is interesting to learn the origins of the collection.

Being on the campus of Oxford University was a pretty humbling experience. As an admissions counselor, I talk about The University of Arizona being the oldest university in the state, founded in 1885, we have nothing on Oxford. I can only imagine the wars, monarchs, and economic hardships that the university has faced throughout its existence. Many say that time is the best test on the quality of various things, if this is the case than Oxford is a force to be reckoned with.

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