Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bodleian Library at University of Oxford

On Friday the class hopped on a train bright and early to visit Oxford, home of the synonymous university. Oxford is also home to the oldest library in the English speaking world, the Bodleian Library. It was a bit difficult to find where we needed to be and when we got there the group was split in half. My half was turned loose on the streets of Oxford until later in the day. I did some minor exploring but mostly was concerned with finding something to eat. Which is truthfully what I am usually most concerned with.

When it was my group’s turn to have take the tour of the library we made our way back without any issue and got ready to learn! Our guide, Mitchell, was hysterical. I am not sure I have as much energy as he does even on my most caffeine-high days. He gave us an overview of the history of Oxford as a city and as a university. It was started in 1096 as Oxford became a center of learning due to the number of churches in the area and the favor of the crown. Things really took off in 1167 when the University of Paris made all of the English students leave. These students came to Oxford and began learning there. There are 39 independent colleges, which I find interesting. I know that Yale works like that because I am from New Haven but somehow it did not occur to me that they’d stolen the idea from Oxford.

The Bodleian is the second largest library in the UK, after the British Library in London. In 1488 a library above the Divinity Room (which was used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!) was put in place. Unfortunately, when the Church of England was created all books that were Catholic in any nature were sold. This forced the library to close until 1598 when Thomas Bodley restored and reopened the library. This area is what is today referred to as the Old Bodleian. It also contains the Duke Humfrey reading room (which was used in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince!).

The New Bodleian houses 12,000 manuscripts and 8 million books. It is eleven stories, several of which are underground. I was also really interested to learn that during WWII the underground floors were used as bomb shelters and where the invasion of Normandy was planned! That is something I never expected. Being a closed stacks library, readers must request materials and then await for them to be delivered to the reading room they are stationed in. Unfortunately, the library has a 3 hour turnaround time sometimes. The books in the underground areas are cataloged by size and date of arrival, as we have been seeing in many closed stacks libraries.

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