First Class Blog Post:
I met a nice fellow today at Christ Church. The day started off alright. We got an early start towards Oxford at 7:15am. Our ride on the coach was about two hours and I was definitely feeling some motion sickness. Taylor generously supplied me with some dramamine (thanks, friend!). The rest of the ride was okay – not great, but I was feeling better about fifteen minutes after we got off the coach.
Our agenda for the day was to visit the Bodleian Library, which is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and the main research library for the University of Oxford. Those facts alone are extremely impressive and intimidating. Our other stop of the day was Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford.
First, we strolled the area around the Bodleian, which was gorgeous. Everything from the architecture to the grounds was stunning. It’s amazing to think about the work and planning that went into creating these magnificent, old structures. I especially loved the stained glass windows, which beautifully captured the light. It’s very humbling to be in a place of such historical and cultural significance. Amazing scholars and people of influence once strolled the same grounds I did. J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll, for example!
We took pictures of Radcliff Camera’s exterior because visitors are not allowed inside. Radcliff Camera used to be one of Oxford’s libraries, and as our later tour guide mentioned, it is unique in its implementation of ground level and underground level storage of books. Apparently, people believe in storing books on higher levels to protect them from threat of flooding and vermin. Higher levels tended to have better light as well. The ground level and underground levels also provided much more space to store books. Sometimes the innovations seem very obvious to me because I do not understand the full reality of living centuries ago. Things always seem obvious later.
After that , I visited the Bodleian Libraries’ Shop where I bought an awesome tote bag featuring the oath that readers must take before using materials. One side of the bag states:
“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,”
while the other side says the same thing, but in Latin:
“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.”
As a future librarian, this purchase has easily got my vote for best souvenir ever!
Our tour began in the Divinity School, which was the setting for the infirmary scenes in Harry Potter. I instantly thought about the scene where Harry drinks the Skele-Gro. Gross! It was also fun to imagine Dumbledore saying, “Alas, ear wax!” Yum?
We made our way upstairs to the Duke Humphrey’s Library, named after the man who donated a large number of manuscripts in the 15th century. In the early sixteenth and late seventeenth century, the building was renovated under the care of Thomas Bodley for whom the Bodleian Library is named. Bodley made many changes during his time: changed the style of the desks and installed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to accommodate more books, replaced chaining with a locked security system, reinvented the cataloguing system, and put books upright. These interesting innovations are captured today in the front part of the Duke Humphrey’s Library, so that patrons and visitors may witness the library as it once was.
I was most intrigued by chaining, which was a method of ensuring that patrons did not “accidently” walk off with precious books. The side opposite of the spine is chained to the bookcase. The spines themselves are not chained to preserve the stitching. The chains require that the books be stored upside down, with the titles printed on the book edges. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs in the Duke Humphrey’s Library, so I do not have a personal example. For more information, see here.
The thing that struck me the most about the Bodleian is that Thomas Bodley renovated the library with the intent of opening access to the public, but as it exists today, the library is only accessible for those with a reader’s card. Those affiliated with Oxford have easy access and those without may gain access by paying a fee. In an ideal world, the library is accessible to all who wish to use the library, but I understand that the constant battle of access versus preservation are at odds here. Access and preservation are prevalent and relevant topics in the library and information science field that I cannot anticipate disappearing. I do believe that we should preserve the library for future use, so the added layer of security definitely helps. On the other hand, I am an advocate of access, so I get weary when I contemplate Bodley’s intent in comparison to the reality.
These issues of access and preservation have geared me towards digitization. I love how digital collections and libraries open access to people, provided that they have internet access. One does not have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to travel to a specific collection, but rather, they might easily browse a collection of Theravada texts in the comfort of their home and pajamas. I understand the limitations of digital copies as they will never replace the original. We might lose the scale and feel of the original, but the digital surrogate can really provide many with a suitable alternative for research. The future of digitization is a complex and fascinating one.
Another one of the great tidbits that I learned today was that the first foreign (American) chief librarians (called Bodley’s Librarians) was also the first female! I love to hear about women entering traditionally-male dominated roles. Though the LIS field typically has a very high female-to-male ratio, the past Bodley’s Librarians were all men. Go Sarah Thomas!
Our other major stop of the day was Christ Church, another college in Oxford. We got to walk through their dining hall, which was a major influence on the design of Hogwart’s Great Hall. There are many Harry Potter references in this post because the HP filmmakers loved filming in Oxford. The buildings are beautiful, so I can understand why.
Shortly after, I sprained my ankle. Boy, did I wish Madame Pomfrey was there to give me some of that Skele-Gro (in my mind, it helps sprains too)! Here in the day’s story is where I met the nicest fellow named Mr. Green, a porter who fetched a wheelchair for me, cleaned up my ankle (a minor scrape), and retrieved a cold compress for the swelling. Mr. Green graciously took care of me way beyond my expectations (of which I had none) as he gave me a long umbrella to serve as a walking stick and called a cab to take me to the Eagle and Child pub, which Tolkien and Carroll frequented. His genuine hospitality and friendliness were touching. Here’s to a relaxing and well-deserved forthcoming retirement, Mr. Green. May you enjoy the sunshine!
And to everyone else, thank you for reading and remember to stay cool, friends!