Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #9 Oxford Bodleian Library

I knew our trip to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University was going to be great when I recognized the main hall as one of the locations in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie. We even had to sit on opposite benches like they do in the dance scene. Even better than all that was when we walked out of our tour back into that room and saw a school field trip taking place where all of the students and teachers were wearing wizard robes and hats. Too cute!

As for the library itself, Bodleian is the main research library of the university. Founded in 1602, it has over 8 million items and is the second largest library in England behind the British Library. Our guide pointed out that while they are big in England they are nothing compared to a library like the Library of Congress who has over 134 million items. Shockingly, he said that their librarians make almost daily calls to the LOC for questions about cataloguing and such. When you think of what a literate country England is and how many great books come from there it’s hard to imagine how their collections can be so much smaller. One reason for this might be lack of space, which seemed to plague every British library we visited. Even at the prestigious Bodleian Library they did not have enough space to store all of their materials. I think over 1 million items in their collection are not even on their property due to shelving constraints.

Within the site are Duke Hemfrey’s Library, the Old Schools Quadrangle, the Clarendon Building, and the Radcliffe Camera – Britain’s first circular library. The first time we went to Oxford I was disappointed that we couldn’t go inside the Camera, as public access is forbidden. So I was delighted to be able to see the inner operations and the beautiful dome room at the top. An interesting tidbit I learned after visiting is that scene’s from one of my favorite childhood movies, Young Sherlock Holmes, were filmed there.

I’ll end my thoughts on the library with a funny story the guide told us. Hundreds of years ago there was a king in town who was bored in his room and asked his servants to fetch him some books from the famous Bodleian Library. When the servants arrived the library refused to give books to the king because he did not have a reader’s card. No matter how hard they pressed, the librarians would not cave in. Eventually the king came back and had a funny statue of himself placed in the Quad, settling the peace between him and the library. Even now I can’t decide if I’m embarrassed or proud of those staunch librarians who refused to bend the rules for anybody!