Sunday, August 07, 2005

Libraries

I couldn't manage as a writer without the two libraries in Oxford since I cannot afford (or even find) all the books I want to use for my research. I am very fortunate to have the Bodleian Library almost on my doorstep. It is not, of course, open to just anybody, since it is the main research library of the University of Oxford. In addition, it is also a Copyright Deposit library, which means that a copy of every book published in England, should be given to its collection.

The Library was the creation of Sir Thomas Bodley, a scholar of Merton College and a diplomat for Queen Elizabeth I. The original University library was destroyed and dispersed in the wake of the Reformation. After almost 50 years without a library for the University, Bodley undertook to refit the Old Library rooms and restock its shelves, using his own extensive collection of books and manuscripts. He enlisted the help of friends, then raised loans and private subscriptions, and finally on 8 November 1602 (1), the Library, now named for its chief patron, was formally opened. The Bodleian became a Copyright Library in 1610, when Bodley made an agreement with the Stationers' Company in that they would undertake to send to the Bodleian a copy of every new book which they published. This agreement made the Bodleian virtually a "deposit library" 150 years before the British Museum (now the British Library) was founded. These days the Bodleian holds more than seven million volumes which are housed in a variety of buildings across Oxford. Those who are not members (ie staff or studnets) of the University of Oxford have to apply to gain access to its collection and if your application is granted, you are then required to pay a fee for a Reader's Ticket. Currently the annual fee is £25 - and although this is not a modest sum for an independent scholar, it is a small price to pay for access to such an enormous collection of materials. The Library is running a 400th anniversary campaign to bring the buildings and services it offers into the 21st century, and I cannot disagree with the necessity for the campaign.

The other library which I use is Oxford's Central Library. The building is not very picturesque, but the staff are friendly and helpful, and I believe in supporting the public library services. The Public Libraries Act of 1850 was responsible for the development of the British public library system, and I often find it amazing that public libraries are still going in Britain. Of course, they have to compete for funding, like all public services, which is why I am happy to pay for Inter Library Loans, or for reserving (and fetching) books from around the county.

(1) My birthday, although I wasn't actually around then, you understand ! :-D

2 comments:

kevin from new jersey said...

I didn't realize you were a library lover, although I shouldn't be surprised. I don't have access to the Bodleian or anything close to it, but I spent countless hours as a college student in the Alexander Library of Rutgers University, not only to work but for the sheer pleasure of being surrounded by so much learning. I even thought about getting a master's degree in library science (I may still). Today I'm president of the Board of Trustees of my town's small public library, which is plugged electronically into the larger county library system. Through my son, I also can gain access indirectly to the library of the University of Pennsylvania with its millions of volumes. Finally, I'm currently reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, in which a library figures prominently.

Michele said...

No indeed, you shouldn't be surprised ! :-D

I've got Eco's book on my "must read" list - I actually picked it up in the public library the other day, but then put it back when I realised the 3 fantasy hardbacks I was about to take out were sufficient weight for one day... If it's not on loan when I call in tomorrow, I'll borrow it then - and you can be sure I'll Blog it once I've read it !