Saturday, 19 July 2008

Bodleian Library, Oxford: 17 July 2008

Courtesy of Professor Welsh

We were greeted by the dry and clipped welcome of Sidney Hicks, Visitor Host. At first I was a bit put off but I quickly found that Hicks' intensity was not annoyance but enthusiasm for his job and the beautiful history of the Bodleian Library. He was a wealth of information and the short period of time we had was not nearly enough time to digest it all.

Part of the collection actually pre-dates the Bodleian Library, going back almost 500 years. However, in the 1550s during the Reformation the King's commission essentially destroyed the library. One can see signs of this destruction by noting the lack of stained glass windows and the missing crucifix. The King's Men determined which books were appropriate and which were not. Unfortunately, many were burned, sold or dispersed of in other ways such as being given to glovers for pressing.

Sir Thomas Bodley who was a student and scholar at Oxford for nearly 15 years undertook the task to restore the Library in 1602 at his own cost. From the outset, Bodley wanted the library to be a global one. It is evident that this dream survived as more than 5% of users live outside the United Kingdom. Hicks noted that there are over 50,000 readers on any given day and there are nearly four and a half million download requests.

In order to keep up with the number of readers and also to conserve materials, the Bodleian Library is undergoing a serious of digitization projects. One of these projects is in conjunction with the Folger Institute. This year long project aims to digitize 75 original Shakespearean quartos which will be freely available with the ability to overlay images for comparisons.

It is clear the Library continues to grow as it receives nearly 3,000 items per week. The Library is one of six Legal Depositories in England and thus receives a copy of anything published within the United Kingdom. This continued growth and it 's forward-looking goal of digitizing the collection furthers Bodley's dreams of a global library perhaps more so than he ever imagined it could be.

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