Monday, October 25, 2010

A Summary of my Research Findings

This blog was a research project for the Diploma of Library/ Information Services, in which I set out to research the development of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. I wanted to learn more about the library’s founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, the librarians that worked there and assisted in the development, the Bodleian’s collection, the buildings that house the collection and how the library continues to develop in the 21st century.

In the Beginning

The first Library at Oxford University opened in 1320, but was overtaken by Duke Humphrey’s Library in 1488. This library lasted until King Edward VI’s anti-Catholic legislation saw it purged of a large part of its collection in 1550.

The university was without a main library for the next fifty years until the Bodleian Library opened, in the same room as Duke Humphrey’s, as the Public Library at Oxford on the Foundation of Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602. There was a collection of 2500 donated books.

It was not “public” in today’s sense of the word, but was open to students, Lords of Parliament (and their sons) and donors (Vaisey 2000). It has always been strictly a no lending library – even King Charles I was refused a loan in 1645 (University of Oxford n.d.).

In the first printed catalogue in 1605, it was referred to as Bibliotheca Bodleiana (Vaisey 2000), and this is where the current name stems from.

Sir Thomas Bodley

Sir Thomas Bodley was born in 1544, to a staunchly Protestant family that was forced into exile in Europe during the reign of Queen Mary.

They returned just in time for him to commence studies at Oxford, and he graduated with a BA in 1563. He was appointed Oxford’s first lecturer in Greek the following year, going on to fill a variety of positions from Dean to Garden Master (Clennell 2000).

Bodley’s scholarly speciality was languages. Even before he got to Oxford he was fluent in Greek, Hebrew and Latin. This prepared him well for work in the British Secret Service throughout Europe in the 1570s, where he also learnt French, Italian and Spanish. This interest in foreign languages was to shape his future collection development policies.

Bodley married a wealthy widow, Ann Ball, in 1586. This was a lucky event for Oxford, as this is where most of his fortune came from.

Ten years later, he decided:

“at the last to set up my Staffe at the Library doore in Oxford; being thoroughly perswaded, that in my solitude and surcease from the Common-wealth affaires, I could not busy my selfe to better purpose, then by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and wast) to the publique use of Students”. (Clennell 2000)

From here on, Bodley and his library were uniquely identified with each other. He devoted the rest of his life to the development of the institution. Until his death in 1613:

“the library was, to an extent perhaps unique among such enterprises, identified with the Founder, with his breadth of vision, encyclopaedic collecting, supervision of the minutest detail of the organisation, his genius for public relations, and the singleminded application of his wealth…”.(Clennell 2000)

When he did pass away, Bodley still ensured that his library would be well provided for as his one and only “heir”. The main purpose of his will, and that which “dothe greatly surpass all (his) other wordly cares” was “the perpetuall preservation support and maintenance of the Publique Librarie in ye Universitie of Oxon” (Vaisey 2000).

Another lasting literary contribution of Bodley’s was his autobiography. Written in 1609 and published in 1647, it was the first ever written in English.

(Rogers 1991)

Bodley’s Librarians

To this day, the Head Librarian at the Bodleian is called Bodley’s Librarian. The position is currently held by American Sarah Thomas – both the first woman and non-British person in the position.

The first Bodley’s Librarian – Thomas James – was also the only one to work by Bodley’s side while he was alive. It was not an easy job. Bodley believed that “his” librarian, like himself, should devote their life to the institution and therefore would not allow them to marry because “marriage is too full of domestic impeachements” (Vaisey 2000). James did eventually get Bodley to relent, but his successor was chosen partly because of his confirmed bachelor status, and also because “not being of orders he was unlikely ever to become a pluralist” (Craster 1954-61).

Apart from bachelor status, the requirements for the Librarian, in Bodley’s words, were that they were “noted and known for a diligent Student … Trusty, Active and Discreet; a Graduat also, and a linguist” (Jackson 1969). He saw the them “somewhat as the book selector”, but more as “the registrar of donations, arranger, and cataloguer”, and at the service of patrons, “skilled in classical languages and in finding what they wanted; as defender of the holding and furnishings against losses to man or lower forms of life but not a maker of decisions about the collection or premises”. These decisions were Bodley’s. James did all of these tasks for little more than the average carpenter’s wage of the time. His starting wage was 8 2/3 shilling per week. (Jackson 1969).

Thomas James’ catalogues, published in 1605 and 1620, were some of the first in the world, and “became standards by which all others were measured for at least a century” (Vaisey 2000). The first one was organised under the subject headings of theology, medicine, law and the arts, while the second was under authors’ names.

Another legacy of James’ was his idea to set up a legal deposit agreement with the Stationers’ Company in London for all books published in the United Kingdom (Vaisey 2000). This was the first of its kind in the world, but the practise continues today. Although this agreement had its issues in the early days, it was instrumental in setting up the Bodleian’s collection.

The Collection

In the incredible collection of the Bodleian Library, “every lettered heart finds itself at home” (Birrell 1905).

From the early days, theology was a big priority. It comprised half of the collection in 1605 and 1612. In fact, there is some speculation that part of the raison d'etre of the library in the first place was as “a weapon in the struggle against Catholicism” (Jackson 1969).

Another priority of Bodley’s was material in languages other than English. He bought a Chinese book in 1604, more than 70 years before there was anyone at Oxford that could translate it, planning for the day “when scholars in those languages should arrive and identify what the Library owned” (Rogers 1991).

Bodley had an extremely strong disapproval of what he termed “idle bookes and riffe raffes” which included “plays, fiction and often just books in English” (Vaisey 2000), and refused to include them in the collection. Amazingly, Shakespeare was included in this. It is thought, though, that James (the first librarian) accepted a lot of material of this persuasion into the collection without Bodley’s knowledge, and kept it out of the catalogue (Jackson 1969). Shakespeare was not officially listed on the catalogue until 1623.

The collection benefited many times from the reputation of the library, and its founder. Among the early acquisitions was a copy of Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning, presented by the author because of the “ark” he felt Bodley had built to “save learning from the deluge” (Jackson 1969).

Kenneth Graham made the Bodleian his heir after his only son died while a student of Oxford. His widow presented the library with the original manuscript of The Wind in the Willows in 1943. The income and royalties continue to greatly help the library today (The Bodleian Library and its Friends 1969).

When the Bodleian library first opened there were 2,000 books in the collection, but by 1649 this had risen to more than 12,000 (Birrell 1923). It reached one million in 1914 (University of Oxford n.d.).

The collection is not just comprised of books, though. Other items donated in the early years included a crocodile, whale, skull, mummy, skeleton, and, shockingly, the “dried body of a negro boy” (Gibson 1914). This is no longer part of the collection but what does remain is the collection of hair of famous people such as writers Keats and Mary Shelley (Bennett 2000).

The Buildings

The Bodleian Library was first housed in the old Duke Humphrey’s library. Bodley oversaw the restoration of the room himself with the help of, in his words, “carpenters, joiners, carvers, glasiers and all that idle rabble” (Gibson 1914).

The Arts End was built in 1610-1613, when the library was already running out of space. It ran over time and over budget, but is still thought one of the most beautiful rooms in Oxford. It is still the first thing that visitors see when entering the library from the front staircase. The shelving in the Arts End, which reaches from floor to roof, was the first ever example of wall-shelving in an English library (Philip 1983). Before that, there was more of a stall arrangement, and students had to stand at lecterns to read books secured to the shelves by chains. This was before the collection grew so exponentially, and more space needed to be found.

(Rogers 1991)

On literally the day after Bodley’s funeral, work started on the Schools Quadrangle (above), with funds that he had left. It was first used for lecture and examination rooms but is now completely used by the library, mostly for storage. This was finished by 1624, and in 1634-7 an extension to Duke Humphrey’s library was built. This is still known as Selden End, and has remained largely intact and unchanged since the sketch below was done by artist Loggan in 1675.

(Rogers 1991)

The Radcliffe Camera was opened in 1749 as a separate library to the Bodleian, but was taken over by the Bodleian in 1860 and now houses reading rooms.

Storage of the collection has always been a major issue at the Bodleian. An underground storage space was built under the Radcliffe in 1909-12, and in the 1930s building started on the New Bodleian, which is connected to the rest of the library by an underground tunnel.

Into the 21st Century

The Bodleian Library has embraced the “Web 2.0” concept, with “Bod 2.0”. There are links to podcasts - or in this case “bodcasts” - on a variety of different subjects, on their web site. There is also a Social Media Directory with details of various blogs, and pages on sites such as Facebook, Library Things and Twitter.

The staff of the Bodleian has been working with ARTstor since 2005 to digitise the Bodleian’s Medieval Manuscripts and Early Printed Books collection. About 25,000 images have been digitised for open access.

In 2004, Oxford University reached an agreement with Google to digitise 1 million of the Bodleian Library’s books that are out of copyright. They digitised two copies – one for the library, and one for Google Books.

A service was also started a year ago called “Mobile Oxford”. Library patrons can search the catalogue of Oxford University’s libraries, including the Bodleian, on their mobile phone. Then, using the GPS built into their phone, the program will locate the nearest copy of the book and tell them how to reach it. This was the first service of its kind in the United Kingdom.

Although the Bodleian is the second largest library in the United Kingdom behind the British Library (Wikipedia 2010), storage space is a continual issue. Just this month the library’s new storage facility was opened. It cost 26 million pounds to build. The Bodleian libraries receive 1000 books per business day, and this facility is expected to fulfil their needs over the next 20 years on its 153 miles of shelving. The move of the books, maps, manuscripts, microfilms, periodicals and newspapers to this facility will be the biggest move in the library’s history (Bodleian Libraries open 26m pound Book Storage Facility 2010).

“Sir Thomas Bodley’s library at Oxford is, all will admit, a great and glorious institution, one of England’s sacred places; and springing, as it did, out of the mind, heart, and head of one strong, efficient, and resolute man, it is a matter for rejoicing with every honest gentleman to be able to observe how quickly the idea took root, how well it has thriven, by how great a tradition it has become consecrated, and how studiously the wishes of the founder in all their essentials are still observed and carried out.” (Birrell 1905)


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