04 July 2013

Day 14 - Oxford

It has been a very long day, having to leave the flat at 6.20am to catch the train to Oxford, and I just finished up doing laundry (this is when you finally feel like you are living somewhere, when you have to do laundry!) so this will be a very picture-heavy post and then I'll go back and add in the library commentary from my notes in the morning. (n.b. Library content now added 8/8/13)

Since it kinda relates to many of the things we saw today, I just have to show how close I was last night to Daniel Radcliffe:
The play was really good, and he was amazing, and if I didn't have to be up so early today I was considering stalking the stage door...which may still happen at some point, possibly. 

Our first stop in Oxford was the Bodleian Library (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley), the oldest public library in Europe. After learning so much about this library in a few of my courses last semester, it was really exciting to actually be there. Pictures in the library itself weren't allowed, but pictures downstairs were...and it was the location of the Hogwarts Infirmary! And the Duke Humfrey library was the Hogwarts library - of course it was the restricted section, and we didn't have our invisibility cloaks so we couldn't sneak in!

This is the 500 year old former Divinity School, started in 1428 and took over 60 years to build. 
The Bodleian Library is considered to be the library of Oxford University, although each college does maintain its own library. It holds over 11 million items, and aims to have only one copy of each book.  Every week they receive two van-loads of books; it was Bodley's idea to get a copy of every book published in the UK to expand the collection and it continues today.  At around 700 years old, it is one of the oldest known libraries in the Western world. Right now the "New Bodleian" is undergoing renovations, which should be completed in 2015, which will open up the eleven floors to visitors to better showcase the treasures. Some of the treasures include, 67 out of the 100 known Hebrew incunables (for the non-librarian readers, an incunable is a printed book created prior to 1501), an illuminated gospel from 800, and a few copies of the Magna Carta. 

The first library was created in Oxford in 1340, and Henry IV's son, Duke Humfrey, loved the idea of libraries so much that he donated all of his manuscripts to Oxford. To hold everything, they decided to build a new library above the Divinity School to house the items. Since 1488 when it opened, it has been known as Duke Humfrey's library. Prior to 1929, there was no heat or electricity in the library for fear of fire. Since there was no electricity, the person in charge who was called Bodley's Librarian would decide when it became too dark to read and then ring a bell to let the readers know it was time to close up and leave.

There was time when there was no library at Oxford; after Henry VIII's break with Rome, the Reformers did away with anything that could have Roman Catholic connotations, and so they sold or destroyed many of the items in the library. Without a collection, it fell into disuse until 1598 when Sir Thomas Bodley made it his goal to bring the library back. To help build the collection, he requested that they receive a copy of every book printed in England. He helped to create the first book catalog in England in 1605; the more valuable books were originally chained to their shelves, with the spines facing inward and the leaves labelled with a number. The shelf list gave the the shelf location and book number, so you could find it on the shelf.

The Bodleian is a reference library, so books cannot be checked out, even by students. Although the term is over, the library was still quite busy with people reading and studying, which is always great to see. My favorite part of the visit was walking into Duke Humfrey's library and breathing in the smell of the books. It would have been perfect if we had been able to hold or even just look at one of the books from the shelves, but because it is a working library we couldn't talk or go into it. And I have to mention that the most recent head librarian of the Bodleian is a Simmons grad! She just recently left to go work at the Harvard libraries, so maybe someday I will be working over here!

Next we visited the Radcliffe Camera - Dr Radcliffe was a physician practicing in London, who donated money for a science library, which became the Radcliffe Camera (camera meaning room). Originally it was one giant room, but it now has a second floor containing another reading room and is solely a reading area, not a library. Underneath the Camera are a 1/2 million books in stacks, which we got to explore and was really interesting to see the rolling stacks - wheels on a track of the top shelf, so you could move them around - now however they are locked into place for safety. 

Then we came across my shop, so of course a picture had to be taken, which I'm pretty sure is a re-creation of the same shot twelve years ago on my first trip to Oxford - it's good to know my store still exists!
Our next stop of the day was not a library visit, but a visit to Christ Church college. Dr. Welsh purchased tickets for the group and we went on a behind the scenes tour, meaning we got to see the gardens and part of the old city wall:
An over 400 year old tree which is more massive than it seems in the picture:
And the best part for me...standing on the dais in the dining room, which was the setting for the Hogwarts dining hall:
As librarians, we were vigilantly taking notes whenever Harry Potter or Alice in Wonderland was mentioned, since Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, worked at Christ Church and Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean, was his inspiration for Alice. 
After that, I hurried over to the Ashmolean Museum to get there to have time to explore before they closed. It is one of the many free and wonderful museums in the UK, holding a variety of materials, many collected by or owned by Oxford University. I spent the two hours I had there on just one floor, exploring their Antiquity items, especially the Egyptian collection. I saw my favorite Egyptian god, Horus, the falcon god. 
One of my favorite parts about the museum was that it provided the provenance of an item, and clearly stated if the provenance was unknown. 

It has been a very Harry Potter-themed two days, and tomorrow it continues with a stop at Platform 9 3/4 on our way to the British Library!


  1. Hi Bonnie...I started at Day 14 and worked backward, had a busy work week so I wasn't able to view every day. Your pictures are terrific and your descriptions are as if I was reading a book, makes you feel that you are there. What a great experience, a real treasure. Be safe, happy 4th of July. Uncle Rich.

  2. Great post, love seeing HP scenes (watched part of one of the movies today). Glad all is well. Love you, Mom and Dad :)