- Posted April 6, 2014 by
Oxford, England, UK.
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The Bodleian Library, Oxford, England.
The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford in the UK. It is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. In the UK it is second in size only to the British Library with over 11 million items. Oxford scholars know this library as "Bodley" or simply "the Bod". Under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 it is one of six legal deposit libraries for works published in the United Kingdom and under Irish Law it is entitled to request a copy of each book published in the Republic of Ireland. The Bodleian operates principally as a reference library and, in general, documents may not be removed from the reading rooms.
Recently a number of libraries belonging to the University of Oxford were brought together for administrative purposes under the umbrella of what was formerly known as ‘Oxford University Library Services’ (OULS) and are now known as the Bodleian Libraries, of which the Bodleian is the largest component. All colleges of the University of Oxford have their own libraries, which in a number of cases were established before the foundation of the Bodleian. All of these remain entirely independent of the Bodleian.
The Bodleian Library currently occupies five buildings near Broad Street. These buildings range in date from the late medieval Duke Humfrey's Library to the New Bodleian of the 1930s. Since the 19th century a number of underground stores have been built below parts of these and the Bodleian also has several off-site storage areas.
Before being granted access to the library, new readers are required to agree to a formal declaration. This declaration was traditionally oral, but is now usually made by signing a letter to the same effect. Ceremonies in which readers recite the declaration are still performed for those who wish to take them; these occur primarily at the start of the University's Michaelmas term. External readers (those not attached to the University) are still required to recite the declaration orally prior to admission. The Bodleian Admissions Office has amassed a large collection of translations of the declaration allowing those who are not native English speakers to recite it in their first language. The English text of the declaration is as follows: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library”.
This is a translation of the traditional Latin oath (the original version of which did not forbid tobacco smoking, though libraries were then unheated because fires were so hazardous): “Do fidem me nullum librum vel instrumentum aliamve quam rem ad bibliothecam pertinentem, vel ibi custodiae causa depositam, aut e bibliotheca sublaturum esse, aut foedaturum deformaturum aliove quo modo laesurum; item neque ignem nec flammam in bibliothecam inlaturum vel in ea accensurum, neque fumo nicotiano aliove quovis ibi usurum; item promitto me omnes leges ad bibliothecam Bodleianam attinentes semper observaturum esse”.
Whilst the Bodleian Library, in its current incarnation, has a continuous history dating back to 1602, its roots date back even further. The first purpose-built library known to have existed in Oxford was founded in the fourteenth century by Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester. This small collection of chained books was situated above the north side of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on the High Street. This collection continued to grow steadily, but when, between 1435 and 1437 Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester (brother of Henry V of England), donated a great collection of manuscripts, the space was deemed insufficient and a larger building was required. A suitable room was finally built above the Divinity School, and completed in 1488. This room continues to be known as Duke Humfrey’s Library.
The late sixteenth century saw the library go through a period of decline to the extent that the library’s furniture was sold, and only three of the original books belonging to Duke Humfrey remained in the collection. It was not until 1598 that the library began to thrive again, when Thomas Bodley, a former fellow of Merton College, wrote to the Vice Chancellor of the University offering to support the development of the library: "where there hath bin hertofore a publike library in Oxford: which you know is apparent by the rome it self remayning, and by your statute records I will take the charge and cost upon me, to reduce it again to his former use." Duke Humfrey’s Library was refitted, and Bodley donated a number of his own books to furnish it. The library was re-opened on 8 November 1602 under the name “Bodleian Library” (officially Bodley's Library).
Bodley’s collecting interests were varied; according to the library's historian Ian Philip, as early as June 1603 he was attempting to source manuscripts from Turkey, and it was during “the same year that the first Chinese book was acquired”. In 1610, Bodley made an agreement with the Stationers' Company in London to put a copy of every book registered with them in the library. The Bodleian collection grew so fast that the building was expanded between 1610–1612, (known as the Arts End) and again in 1634–1637. When John Selden died in 1654, he left the Bodleian his large collection of books and manuscripts. The later addition to Duke Humfrey’s Library continues to be known as the "Selden End".
By the time of Bodley’s death in 1612, further expansion to the library was being planned. The Schools Quadrangle (sometimes referred to as the "Old Schools Quadrangle", or the "Old Library") was built between 1613 and 1619 by adding three wings to the Proscholium and Arts End. Its tower forms the main entrance to the library and is known as the Tower of the Five Orders. The Tower is so named because it is ornamented, in ascending order, with the columns of each of the five orders of classical architecture: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.
The three wings of the quadrangle have three floors: rooms on the ground and upper floors of the quadrangle (excluding Duke Humfrey’s library, above the Divinity School) were originally used as lecture space and an art gallery. The lecture rooms are still indicated by the inscriptions over the doors. As the library’s collections expanded, these rooms were gradually taken over, the University lectures and examinations were moved into a newly created University Schools building. The art collection was transferred to the Ashmolean museum. One of the schools is now used to host exhibitions of the library’s treasures, whilst the others are used as offices and meeting rooms for the library administrators.
The agreement with the Stationers' Company meant that the growth of stock was constant and there were also a number of large bequests and acquisitions for other reasons. Until the establishment of the British Museum in 1753 the Bodleian was effectively the national library of England. By then the Bodleian, Cambridge University Library and the Royal Library were the most extensive book collections in England and Wales.