Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Oxford: Bodleian Library and Christ Church Library

One of my favorite places we visited was Oxford. I had been ready to go to Oxford since we first arrived in London. I am obsessed with the literary history of Oxford: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll, so needless to say, visiting Oxford University was a highlight of my entire experience! Our first visit of the day was to Bodleian Library. We learned from our lovely and knowledgeable tour guide about the early history of the university. Oxford was originally a monastery that was made a home for education in the early 700s. The original building for teaching, testing, commencement, etc., all took place in the church. Eventually, the university grew into its own campus, complete with 38 individual colleges. Each college is self-sufficient and is home to students and fellows (professors).  The first library at Oxford was opened in 1320, but was superseded by a library built in 1488( known as Duke Humfreys Library). During this time, the reformation spread, and books relating to Roman Catholicism were being taken out and burnt under orders by King Edward VI in 1550. As the library was depleted of books, the university was left in a dire situation. In 1602, a fellow by the name of Thomas Bodley rescued the library by providing his extensive collection of books and the library re-opened to the university.

The Bodleian Library is the first copyright library in England and has been collecting published books since 1610. The library has 11 million books in the collection; but is not a lending library. Each college at Oxford has a lending library, yet the Bodleian serves a research and copyright library for the university.
The Library has  multiple reading rooms for students and faculty at Oxford. The books are chained in library and librarians are to help you locate a shelf number and book number. The librarian is the only person allowed to handle books at the Bodleian.
The library was a phenomenal library; so full of history and one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen.  Plus, scenes in Harry Potter were filmed in the library! So cool!
The second visit in Oxford was the Christ Church Library. As someone who is obsessed with Alice in Wonderland, I was so excited to be in the place where Charles Dodgson first saw young Alice Liddell and wrote her a story about her adventures in Underland.
 We learned from our tour of the library that the library holds a great deal of Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) manuscripts and early editions of his work. There is even a special collection with focus on Christ Church’s favorite author and mathematics fellow. The library is organized by collection rather than subject or call number. The different sections of the collection are named after the donors who provided the books to the library. Some of the major projects of the library included cataloging early printed books; cataloging at Christ Church has taken thirteen years (on and off).  The collection is large and rather diverse; a large music collection and science collection are the strengths of the collection. The music catalogue was recently digitized and is now available online. One of the most interesting things I learned about the library was that Charles Dodgson served as sub-librarian for a few years at the Christ Church Library (we even got to see where his office might have been!).  I was impressed with the amount of items on exhibition about Lewis Carroll and his life at Oxford as Charles Dodgson.  His manuscripts, sketches, and photographs were on display in the library. As an Alice fan, I was tickled to see all of the items related to the man behind the book.

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