Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Libraries

Ah, the libraries.

Since 1607, Oxford's famed Bodleian Library has had a legal right to one copy of every book published in the UK. When Jamestown was founded, Oxford University had been around for several hundred years and it was establishing the library that would become the 2nd largest in the UK. (The British Library in London is bigger.) It just recently logged its 12 millionth volume.

And get this: the Bodleian Library is not just one building. It's a library system with buildings throughout the city. Each faculty in the University (faculty is British for department) has a library, each college has a library, and there is even a huge, brand-spanking-new storage facility in a town forty miles away to store excess books.

The round building in this photo is the Radcliffe Camera, a building in the center of the city that houses many of the Bodleian's books. It is linked by an underground tunnel (a two-story tunnel storing many rolling shelves full of books, mind you) to the Old Bodleian Library, a huge square building with a courtyard in the middle. The Old Bodleian still has one room filled with books from the monastic era - books that are still chained to the walls. 

Each library building has at least one reading room. The English Department, regrettably, is an unattractive modern building whose reading room is perfectly nice, but nothing to rave about. The Radcliffe Camera and Old Bodleian, on the other hand, have august reading rooms that seem almost sacred. The first time I walked into those buildings I felt like an intruder who had no right to be there. Though now that I've been working in them and actually have books to find and read for my tutorials I feel quite legitimate. 

Navigating the library system takes some getting used to. Books owned by the Bodleian proper (those stored in the Rad Cam, the Bodley, and the Gladstone Link) cannot be checked out, which means every student spends an inordinate amount of time in the reading rooms. Faculty books can be checked out, which is convenient, but most sources are still found in the main Bodleian. Some of these are on the open shelves, so you find your call number through the search engine SOLO, go pull the book off the shelves, take it to your desk, and start reading. Many, however, are in the "closed stacks" -stored in the aforementioned storage facility forty miles away. To access these, you have to order them online and specify which reading room you want them delivered to. Generally about two hours later, an email will arrive in your inbox stating that your order has arrived. 

It's a book-lover's paradise. Though in some ways, it's maddening to know that I have access to all the books I ever wanted to read on subjects from the art of perfumery to miles of classics to even books of German poetry. And, of course, I barely even have time to read the books I need to read for my tutorials, much less extracurricular sampling. But still. It's amazing. 

{the upper reading room in the Radcliffe Camera}

1 comment:

  1. happy to see your new posting.
    thanks for explaining the libraries there,
    enjoy them!