James' Jaunts
Bodleian Library
University of Oxford
Oxford, England

The first library opened at Oxford University in 1320, in a room added to the church. In the 15th century, the university constructed a purpose-built building for lectures and exams, and an upper floor was added for a library. The first collection housed within this library came from Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The library and its collection was destroyed during the Reformation, however. Only a dozen or so book survived, three of which are now in the current library. Thomas Bodley, a fellow of Merton College, and an avid collector of books. He donated his collection, about 3000-4000 books, to re-establish a central library. He also made arrangements with a company in London to receive a copy of every book published, making it the oldest copyright library. And so it is named the Bodleian Library.

The Bodleian Library collection currently contains 11 million books. It is not a lending library; readers request items and use the provided reading rooms. Lending services are provided by the college and department libraries.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs in the library itself, to protect the integrity of the collection. And I say unfortunately, because it was a beautiful site to behold. It is shelf upon shelf of ancient tomes. Some of the books are still shelved with spines inward; books were often chained to the shelf and some still have the chains on them. The spines were also more impervious to pests. There is electrical lighting, but it is kept fairly dim, so most of the lighting is natural lighting from the large windows situated between shelves. Until electrical lighting was put in, this was actually the only source of lighting available in the library. Readers had to take an oath in Latin and in English before accessing the collection not to use open flames around the books; new readers are still required take this oath.

Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of Oxford University and the library. She gave a great tour that was both informative and entertaining. The only disappointing part was that we were unable to tour the underground, where the majority of the collection is housed. Other groups have had that opportunity, I think. Overall, it was an incredible experience though!

On a side note: the Bodleian Library is featured in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Library.


Leave a Reply

    London Away:
    British Studies
    Summer 2011


    I am a professional student.  I have a formal education--both a Bachelor and Master's degree in English, and I am working on a Master's in Library and Information Sciences.  But I believe that life experience is the greatest teacher anyone can have.  So I am hitting the road to have fun and to learn--and no, that's not mutally exclusive!--and live life to the fullest.



    July 2011
    June 2011
    May 2011
    April 2011



    RSS Feed